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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Recap: Arizona heads to Elite 8 with 68-60 win over Xavier

Rebecca Noble

Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski (35) clamors for a rebound against Xavier center Matt Stainbrook (40) and Xavier forward Jalen Reynolds (1) during Arizona’s 68-60 win against Xavier at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday night. The Wildcats have the chance to revenge their Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin last season, playing the Badgers on Saturday at 3:09 p.m. MST. 

LOS ANGELES — For about 36 minutes, No. 2 seed Arizona (34-3) and No. 6 seed Xavier (23-14) played to a near draw. The Wildcats led 55-54 with 4:28 left on Thursday before a 13-6 run propelled Arizona to a 68-60 win and an Elite 8 berth.

Leading the charge late was senior point guard T.J. McConnell, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and one steal in 36 minutes of play. McConnell’s 3-pointer with 4:18 left in the game kickstarted the game-winning run and set the Wildcats up for a Saturday revenge game with Wisconsin (34-3).

After the game, McConnell said the team looked forward to playing Wisconsin but didn’t want to put too much into the rematch.

“Obviously, it’s a big game to return to the Elite Eight and play the exact same opponent as we did last year and come up short,” McConnell said. “But we’re going to take it as any game like we would be playing anyone else. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Wisconsin or if we were playing North Carolina, we’d game plan the same, and it happened to be Wisconsin. So we’re not making this game any bigger than it needs to be.”

Aiding McConnell was a key all-around performance from center Kaleb Tarczewski. The 7-footer recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and was often matched up against Xavier’s best player, Matt Stainbrook.

Tarczewski carried over his solid play from the round of 32 matchup with Ohio State but deflected the praise to McConnell.

“Over the season T.J. has really developed into the rock on our team, the leader,” Tarczewski said. “He’s someone that in clutch situations, everyone on our team is confident with him having the hands and the ball in his hands. He’s just a great basketball player, and like I said, we’re all confident in him. He always makes the right play.”

While Tarczewski and McConnell deflected praise and recognition, Southern California native Stanley Johnson, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds, spoke on playing near to his hometown of Fullerton, Calif.

“I think it’s really special to be in LA and win,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like it’s weird because even though I’m home on the road, it’s almost like I’m super focused on what we have to do at hand. This is not a vacation or anything like that. You only get one trip this year to do — get to the Sweet Sixteen and get to the Elite Eight.”

Despite the efforts of Johnson, McConnell and Tarczewski, Xavier stayed right with the Wildcats throughout the action. The Musketeers shot 43 percent from the field but just 18 percent from beyond the arc.

Stainbrook led the Musketeers with 17 points and 10 rebounds but got in foul trouble down the stretch.

After not recording a foul for the first 33:42 of play, Stainbrook picked up three fouls in a matter of :53 seconds and finished with four fouls.

“I think he’s out of the game, and having a 270-pound body out of the way, we started getting rebounds and we got the advantage on the boards,” Johnson said. “The story of the season for us, when we defend and rebound, it’s hard to beat us.”

Looking forward, Arizona has a day off before facing Wisconsin on Saturday. Tip time is set for 3:09 p.m. MST and will be televised on CBS.

“I think a lot of our players were motivated this off-season to come back and make a run at this,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “And here we are, and that’s really to our credit. As you know, especially in this tournament that is not an easy thing to accomplish. So we have to take advantage of it over the next couple of days and do the things that make us a good team. I know Wisconsin’s going to do the same, and we’ll see how it goes.”


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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