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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona Wildcats face feisty Texas Southern Tigers in second round cat fight

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Tyler Baker

Coach Sean Miller watches the scoreboard during Arizona’s 80-52 win against Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament championship in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. on March 14.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Arizona men’s basketball’s road to the Final Four begins Thursday morning with Texas Southern, a team without a famous name but quality wins.

On Thursday at 11:10 a.m. MST on TNT, the second seeded Wildcats (31-3) face No. 15 seed Texas Southern (22-12) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament West Region in Portland, Ore.

The Tigers, who went 16-2 in the SWAC, are 118th in the RPI but beat Michigan State 71-64 on the road and won 58-56 at Kansas State. MSU (23-11) made it to the NCAA Tournament as a seven seed.

“I always like to watch Michigan State play,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said at the Wednesday press conference. “So when I saw [Texas Southern’s] name came up, I guess you probably get a sick feeling in your stomach because you know anybody that can go to East Lansing and can play that well against Michigan State, a team that’s very well-coached.”

Arizona is 8-3 under Miller in the NCAA Tournament, with three Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights. TSU is in the Big Dance in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1995 and the second time overall.

The Wildcats are 22.5 point favorites. No. 2 seeds are 113-7 against No. 15 seeds all-time, but Arizona, in 1993 to Steve Nash and Santa Clara, was one of those twos to fall.

“They really have nothing to lose,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said in a press conference. “You know, we just have to match their intensity and play just as hard.”

TSU guard Madarious Gibbs, the SWAC Player of the Year, averages 14.2 points and 4.3 assists per game to lead the Tigers.

“We know they’re a great team,” Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said in a press conference. “They’ve played a pretty good out-of-conference schedule. We know they have great guards. They really look to attack. They use a lot of ball screens in their offense. We know they’re going to be prepared. They made the tournament; they’re obviously good enough to be here.”

Texas Southern coach Mike Davis led Indiana to the NCAA Championship game in 2002 and won Conference USA Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year and NABC All-District Coach of the Year at UAB.

“He’s done well wherever he’s been,” Miller said. “He has his team back in this tournament again. Whoever you play in this tournament, it’s going to be a tough draw.”

Texas Southern’s win at Michigan State came right after they lost by 40 to Gonzaga. While the Bulldogs (32-2) ended up as a No. 2 seed, Arizona beat them in Tucson 66-63 in overtime.

Davis asked motivational speaker Eric Thomas to speak to the Tigers in between their Gonzaga and Michigan State games.

“He’s a very, very good motivational speaker,” Davis said. “He came to practice and I wanted him to speak to our team. The one message that he gave them was [that] if you have average skills, no one on [your] basketball team would be an NBA draft pick. He said that if you have average skills, you have to have a phenomenal will. Your will has to be greater than anyone you’re going against.”

TSU forward Malcolm Riley said their demanding non-conference schedule prepared them for playing teams like Arizona.

“It kind of got us prepared for this as far as playing bigger guys — and playing at that pace, too,” Riley said. “So we kind of get used to it. I know we haven’t played a non-conference game in a while, but we’ve been trying to get back to that pace at practice. Now it’s time to rock and roll.”

The Tigers have made it to the NCAA tournament five times but haven’t won a game yet. They made it in 1990, 1994, 1995, 2003 and 2014 previously.

Davis said it’s an opportunity to represent Texas Southern and Houston.

“We flew out here on a charter flight,” Davis said. “Our band is with us, cheerleaders, alumni, administration is here with us. That’s a victory to me within itself. Never get a chance to go out and play future NBA players. We get a chance to play maybe a Final Four team.”

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