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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Everything falling into place for Arizona men’s basketball

Rebecca Noble

Arizona men’s basketball forward Brandon Ashley (21) and Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski (35) laugh together once their 73-58 win against Ohio State became imminent in the final minutes of gameplay in the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., on Saturday. With top-rated teams in the West Region falling and dominant play continuing, things are falling into place for Arizona.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Everything’s falling into place for Arizona men’s basketball — even the things it may not want.

You may have had a fun spring break full of going to the beach, skiing and video-gaming, but your holiday was surely nowhere near as good as the Wildcats’.

Arizona (33-3) won the elusive Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament title, got a two seed in the NCAA Tournament, punched a ticket to the Sweet 16 and, quite frankly, set up a series of revenge/reunion games that are a writer’s dream.

The Wildcats started the break with a 70-64 win over UCLA in the Pac-12 Conference tournament. Sure, Arizona was supposed to beat the Bruins after winning the conference championship by three games, but the win exorcised a great deal of demons for the Wildcats.

UCLA had beaten Arizona in the last two Pac-12 tournaments.

Then in the title game, the Wildcats pounded Oregon 80-52. The Ducks stole the Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Player of the Year from Arizona coach Sean Miller and point guard T.J. McConnell.

Then on Selection Sunday, the Wildcats got the second seed in the West. They’re certainly more deserving than some of the top seeds, namely Villanova, which got knocked out in the third round. But, they got to stay in the West, got more motivation from another slight and they potentially get another crack at Wisconsin, the region’s top seed.

The Badgers knocked Arizona out of the tournament last year in the Elite Eight 64-63 in overtime.

The Wildcats opened the Big Dance with a 93-72 win over 15-seeded Texas Southern. Right afterward, No. 10-seed Ohio State beat No. 7-seed VCU 75-72 in overtime to set up a third-round matchup with the UA.

The Buckeyes bounced the Wildcats from the 2013 NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16, and Ohio State coach Thad Matta was Miller’s boss when he was associate head coach at Xavier.

Arizona beat Ohio State 73-58 to not only avenge the 2013 loss but record Miller’s first win against his former mentor. Matta beat the UA coach when Miller was head coach at Xavier and once at Arizona, both in the NCAA Tournament.

The circle is now complete. When Miller left Matta, he was just the student; now, he is the master.

That win sent the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles, Calif., against Xavier.

The sixth-seeded X-Men beat No. 14-seed Georgia State, which knocked out the West’s three seed, Baylor.

Just as Miller wasn’t that excited to play against his friend, Matta, he can’t be stoked to face his former school. Miller isn’t Todd Graham. It took a lot of soul searching for him to decide to leave Xavier.

On the other hand, it makes for another great story: Miller going against his last employer and his former Padawan, Xavier coach Chris Mack.

Not only is Arizona rolling, having won 13 in a row and 18 of its last 19, but so is the Pac-12, the league Arizona won by three games. The Conference of Champions started the tournament 7-0 and got three teams into the Sweet 16: UA, UCLA and Utah.

Heck, the way things are going for the Wildcats, if they make it to the Elite Eight, they might not even have to play Wisconsin, which received the Sports Illustrated jinx treatment.

With a hot streak like this, the Wildcats may want to return to Las Vegas, Nev., before going to LA.


Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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