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Commentary: Aging Arizona team tops Memphis

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Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The No. 16 Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team took on the Memphis Tigers in second round action of the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 18 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. The Wildcats held on for a 77-75 win.

TULSA, Okla. – A nonchalant, shoulder-shrugging Arizona team appeared in the opening minutes of the Wildcats’ first NCAA Tournament game under head coach Sean Miller.

On the opposite bench, an even younger Memphis Tiger team came out with an emotional chip on the shoulder fitting of their No. 12 seed.

So it became a game of Memphis’ eccentric emotions versus Arizona’s persistent approach in Tulsa, Okla. In the end, the Wildcats’ consistent focus won out in their 77-75 victory against Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“”They’re a young team,”” point guard Momo Jones said of the Tigers. “”I think they wanted to come in here, and I think they wanted to do something big. This was their chance. They came out really riled up.

“”We kind of came out nonchalant,”” the sophomore added.

Maybe it’s a stretch, but that “”just another game”” attitude helped the Wildcats out, because in the huddle, there was no sense of panic and no sense that they wouldn’t win the game even though they found themselves down 10-1 in the early minutes.

It was a testament to how much experience Arizona’s gotten in such little time.

Much of that growth came by way of the Wildcats’ last two games against the Washington Huskies, where late-game heroics and late-game melt-downs combined and defined the season. In McKale, it was forward Derrick Williams’ block in the final second. At the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament last weekend, it was blowing a four-point lead in the final minutes.

Friday was deja vu. Williams needed a block on Memphis’ Wesley Witherspoon in the final second to avoid the loss after a five-point advantage melted to one.

“”It’s nothing new,”” sophomore Kevin Parrom said. “”Coach just emphasizes staying focused, and just keying in on the win and staying as a team. Not collapsing, just being a family, stay close.””

Persistence paid off.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller told us all before that he didn’t see his younger players as sophomores, and he has a point. Not many teams with so many sophomores have had those same sophomores play significant minutes for 65 games.

So when Arizona found itself down by as many as 10 points in the first half, it wasn’t a shock that the Wildcats didn’t panic.

Really?

“”They couldn’t play at that pace the whole game,”” forward Solomon Hill said, who said the Wildcats never got the sense that their team was in trouble.

And when the Wildcats got a 48-40 lead early in the second half, the Tigers responded with a 13-0 run while holding Arizona scoreless for more than five minutes.

But as the game grew older, so did the Arizona Wildcats. Still no worry the game was slipping a way? Nope.

In the final minutes, missed free throws and wild shot attempts by the Tigers showed that the aged Wildcats don’t need an eccentric adrenaline to win games.

All they had to do was keep at it.

And just as it had been a week prior, the game came down to a small lead with under a minute to play. Up 75-70 with 23 seconds left, two foul shots by Memphis guard Joe Jackson and a botched inbounds pass leading to a Jackson lay-up cut UA’s lead to one.

After two clutch free throws from Jones and a 1-for-2 trip by Jackson, Williams’ block sent the Tigers packing for good.

“”It wasn’t the prettiest win,”” Parrom said. “”We just wanted to survive and advance. You win by one, two, you know … it still counts as a W. That’s all we’re really focused on.””

Focus: what an aging-Arizona team is just learning to win by.

– Kevin Zimmerman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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