Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Arizona’s 70-64 win over #4 San Diego State. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Fighting Through A Tough Game. Nick Johnson, the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a rock for the Wildcats, started the game missing his first ten field goal attempts and, even more confusing, getting scored on at the other end of the court by guys like Xavier Thames and Dwayne Polee. This was a bad sign, as one thing previous Arizona losses had in common were cold shooting nights by Johnson. But at no time was he ever visibly down on himself or giving anything less than 100% effort. And after a T.J. McConnell steal turned into an easy hoop for Johnson on the break with just under three minutes left in the game, that broke the seal. He hit a dagger three on the next Arizona possession to put the Wildcats up six and then made ten straight clutch free throws down the stretch to ensure that the Wildcats’ lead would be safe. It probably wasn’t the type of game Johnson envisioned prior to the game, but his ability to keep his head in the game and stick with it through his struggles bear the hallmark of a champion. And, in the end, he still wound up tied with Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the Wildcats’ leading scorer, with 15. After the game, Sean Miller’s main theme was his pride in his team’s resiliency, and Johnson was a perfect example.
- San Diego State Rebounding. In their first matchup, Arizona dominated the glass. They grabbed 40.6% of offensive rebound opportunities and controlled 74.3% of defensive rebound chances. For the first San Diego State possession of the night, you could tell that those types of stats were drilled into the Aztecs’ heads. On the first possession, Skylar Spencer and Josh Davis were each credit with a single offensive rebound before Davis put the ball back in for a hoop. And the Aztecs may have been under-credited there. On the third possession, the Aztecs were credited with three more offensive boards before Davis again wound up putting the ball back in. A tone was set early and it continued throughout the first half and throughout the game. But, you can bet that Miller mentioned the rebounding disparity to his team at the half, because down the stretch Gordon grabbed a couple of huge offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions under the six-minute mark that turned into big buckets for the Wildcats. Arizona made the final rebounding margin a bit more respectable, but the Aztecs’ work on the glass helped keep them in this game.
- Rebounding, Redux. Arizona has now been outrebounded in every game they’ve played in this tournament, quite a change for a team that was in the top 25 in the nation on both ends of the court coming into this game. Miller noted after the game that this may just be who the Wildcats are these days – a good rebounding team, but no longer a great once since the loss of power forward Brandon Ashley. “People say that we’re a big team. Since Brandon left us, our size is good, but not great… Our room for error rebounding the ball is lost. We don’t beat you up any more… We’ve need all five guys on every shot to box out, we have to work hard to get second shots.” The Aztecs certainly opened up a lot of eyes to that fact and now, with a Wisconsin team that does a terrific job cleaning the defensive glass, second chance opportunities on Saturday will be hard to come by. Read the rest of this entry »