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Column: Wildcats take close 72-68 victory over Kansas State to advance to Maui Invitational championship

Courtesy+of+Matthew+Thayer+%2F+The+Maui+NewsArizona+mens+basketball+forward+Stanley+Johnson+dribbles+up+court+during+Arizonas+72-68+victory%26%23160%3Bover+Kansas+State+at+Lahaina+Civic+Center+in+Maui%2C+Hawaii+on+Tuesday.+Johnson+finished+with+14+points+as+the+Wildcats+advanced+to+the+championship+round+of+the+2014+EA+Sports+Maui+Invitational.

Courtesy of Matthew Thayer / The Maui News

Arizona men’s basketball forward Stanley Johnson dribbles up court during Arizona’s 72-68 victory over Kansas State at Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii on Tuesday. Johnson finished with 14 points as the Wildcats advanced to the championship round of the 2014 EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Going into the matchup between Arizona and Kansas State, one thing was certain: The Wildcats would come out on the winning side of the scoreboard. The question was which Wildcats would win. Arizona or Kansas State?

At the onset of the game, it looked like K-State would be the winning Wildcats. KSU was hitting 3-pointers and limited the Arizona offense for the majority of the first half, making a strong case it was the better team.

Toward the end of the first half, Arizona shifted its defense in overdrive, racking up 11 points off six KSU turnovers. Leading the way defensively was the always pesky T.J. McConnell, the guard with a team-high two steals to go along with seven points, six assists and four rebounds.

McConnell’s performance validated the idea that he is the heart and soul of this year’s Wildcats and led the team to a 72-68 victory.

Aiding McConnell were four Wildcats (5-0) who scored in double figures. Kaleb Tarczewski finished with a team-high 18 points, tying his career high in the process, Gabe York scored 15 points, Stanley Johnson added 14 points and Brandon Ashley contributed 10 points. The five UA starters combined for 64 of the team’s 72 points.

Contrary to his style so far this season, UA head coach Sean Miller shortened his rotations in the first close game of the season. Four Wildcats came off the bench, but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who finished with 30 minutes, was the only sub to play more than seven minutes.

With the increased minutes, four out of the five starters ended the game with a positive plus/minus rating. The one starter with a negative rating was York with a -3 rating, which isn’t hard to imagine.

For those who don’t know what plus/minus is, it’s essentially how many points the team scores with that player on the court. A positive number means the team outscored the opposition by that number with the player on the court. A negative number means the team was outscored by the opposition by that number with the player on the court.

York’s negative rating isn’t surprising because he is usually subbed out in favor of Hollis-Jefferson, someone who has been highly effective in his role as a super sub. When you consider Hollis-Jefferson had a plus/minus rating of 13, York’s -4 really isn’t an issue.

On the Kansas State side of the box score, its best player, Marcus Foster, finished with a plus/minus rating of -6. Despite that negative number, Foster led KSU with 23 points, scoring evenly throughout the game with 11 points in the first half and 12 points in the second half.

That’s the kind of thing where he is the team’s best player and absolutely had to be on the court at the end when the UA was closing out the game with free throws, making his plus/minus a bit deceptive.

Regardless, the Arizona Wildcats moved on to the championship round tomorrow to play the winner of the Pittsburgh and San Diego State matchup. Tomorrow’s matchup will take place at 8 p.m. MST and can be seen on ESPN.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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