Well that was terrifying wasn't it? After the dust settled, the Cats find themselves yet again on the doorstep of the program's first Final Four appearance since 2001, but it certainly wasn't easy as Xavier put up a hell of a fight. Let's recap below:
Stainbrook, Towns or Okafor Is Now A Debate
All first half, Matt Stainbrook absolutely had his way with Kaleb Tarczewski and the rest of the Arizona front-line. In a horrible flashback to Frank Kaminsky last year, it looked as if Arizona might be bounced from the tournament thanks to the dominance of just one enormous man that has no future in male modeling. Zeus could not handle his massive size in the post in the first half, and the decision not to double him was wisely changed in the second half. Stainbrook's impact was severely limited from that point on. No matter who you were cheering for tonight, you have to tip your cap to the Uber driver (I'd give him 5 stars for his effort tonight) for playing his heart out and giving Arizona fits all night. Also, I'm pretty sure he had 19 fouls, but the final box score only says four somehow. All in all, he was much more impressive than I anticipated and I am happy to never have to see that guy again unless I happen to need a ride late at night while I'm drinking in Cincinnati.
Of all the things that have convinced me that this year is different than last year, Rondae bouncing back almost instantly from what looked like a potentially devastating injury is now at the top of my list. That looked quite gruesome and for a few minutes every Arizona fan had the exact same thought: 'here we go again'. If Arizona had lost Ashley last year and Rondae this year, there always would have been that big cloud of 'what if?' hanging above our heads and I am very, very happy that we don't have to wonder what a game against Wisconsin will look like without RHJ.
Well that certainly worked well, didn't it? The 1-3-1 look completely took the Wildcats out of their game and out of their offense for long stretches. Arizona ended up passing the ball around the perimeter and creating very few good looks in the first half. I can't even count the number of times T.J. would receive a pass a few steps inside the half-court line. Adjustments were made and luckily Stanley and York hit just enough threes to make Xavier pay. If Wisconsin decides to throw a zone at Arizona on Saturday, they had better shoot the ball a lot better than tonight to advance.
A Game of Runs
All game long you kept thinking a patented second half run was coming from Arizona to break this game open and it finally did happen..... but not until far too late to feel comfortable. The Cats forced some turnovers, gobbled up rebounds and pushed the tempo late in the second half and most importantly, knocked down their free throws to finish the game on a 19-7 run.
T.J. McConnell Is A God Among Men
Let's not mince words here, T.J.'s first half of this game was potentially the worst half he has played in an Arizona jersey. He was missing open shots and he made uncharacteristically bad decisions and turned the ball over far too many times. Just when it looked like hope may be lost, as he has done so many times before, T.J. put this team on his back, demanded the ball, calmed everyone down and went back to being one of Arizona's greatest point guards ever. T.J. finished with 17 points, 7 boards and 5 assists, and although he didn't shoot great from the field he knocked down the ones he needed the most.
The Rematch - Bring On The Badgers
In the game we have all been expecting since the brackets were released, Arizona now gets another shot at Frank Kaminsky and the one-seed in the West, the Wisconsin Badgers. Much like this Sweet Sixteen game felt a lot like last year's game against San Diego State, I expect Saturday's Elite Eight showdown to be much like last year's edition against Wisconsin in terms of it being a close, hard-fought game, but this year the Wildcats control Kaminsky, play with a healthy line-up and get Sean Miller to his first of many, many Final Fours. Bear Down.