The No. 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats defeated the No. 6 seeded Xavier Muskateers 68-60 to set up a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight against the Wisconsin on Saturday night.
T.J. McConnell was absolutely on fire for the Wildcats as he finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. McConnell didn’t think he had the best game however as he said he “couldn’t throw it into the ocean from the beach” talking about his inefficiencies from beyond the arch. McConnell was just one-for-six from distance.
The main story of the Wildcats’ success down the stretch was hard-nosed defense however, led by Kaleb Tarczewski. Tarczewski protected the paint with ease and swallowed up rebound after rebound. When the game was all said and done, the big man finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The Arizona defense totaled nine steals. More impressively, six Wildcats players had at least one steal with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leading the team with three.
Arizona, as a team, was extremely efficient from the free throw line for the third consecutive tournament game and will continue to mow down their opposition if they can keep hitting the freebies.
After missing their first two free throws on the night, Arizona would make their next 17 free throw attempts. This impressive performance came after going 24-for-27 against Texas Southern and 20-for-24 against Ohio State. Not too shabby for a program that shot less than 70 percent from the charity stripe in the regular season.
Arizona now sits at a 87.1 percent clip from the free throw line in the tournament.
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Senior Matt Stainbrook led the Muskateers as he finished with a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in his final collegiate game.
Xavier shot 43.1 percent from the field, but a measly 17.6 percent from distance. Arizona shot 40.7 percent and nailed seven of their 22 three-point shots (31.8 percent).
The Wildcats won the board battle 33-31, had one more assist than Xavier (10-to-nine), and had less turnovers (eight-to-12).
Xavier kept the game very close and even had a four-point lead with just over seven minutes remaining. Arizona was able to overcome the deficit behind the leadership of McConnell and strong play from his supporting cast.
Arizona will set their sights on the Wisconsin Badgers now for their upcoming clash. Wisconsin sent Arizona packing last year with a 64-63 victory in the Elite Eight. Arizona has worked diligently all year and they now have a chance to get the revenge they have been seeking.