Arizona weathers 'storms' to advance to Sweet 16 again
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) After the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Arizona coach Sean Miller can roll off a list of concerns about his team: staying focused on defense, moving the ball against a zone and making outside shots.
The good news for Miller? The Wildcats will be around for the second week to correct them.
Second-seeded Arizona advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year Saturday, overcoming a slow start to beat Ohio State 73-58 in Portland. The Wildcats also trounced tiny Texas Southern 93-72 here Thursday, though neither Miller nor his players were pleased with their defense in that one.
Next up for the Wildcats is sixth-seeded Xavier, where Miller was the head coach from 2004-09, in the West Regional semifinals Thursday in Los Angeles. Arizona also remains on track for a rematch against Wisconsin in the regional final.
The Big Ten champions, who ousted Arizona in an overtime thriller in last year's regional final, are the top seed in the West. The Badgers face Oregon on Sunday in Omaha, Nebraska.
"We've weathered a couple of storms," Miller said. "I think we've learned in this region, this tournament, a couple things this week leading to L.A. that we have to make sure we're sharp and ready to go. Now that we have two more games on a neutral court, I think it becomes easier to go out there and be yourself."
Miller credits the grind of the Pac-12 for preparing his team for this stage. Winning the conference's regular-season and tournament titles seems like even more of an accomplishment for the Wildcats considering how the tournament has played out.
The Pac-12 is 7-0 in the tournament, with Arizona, Utah and UCLA all securing spots in the Sweet 16.
The Utes downed Georgetown 75-64 in Saturday's second game in Portland to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2005. Utah, which won just six games in Larry Krystkowiak's first season as coach in 2011-12, will play Friday in Houston against the winner of No. 1-seeded Duke and eighth-seeded San Diego State.
"It's surreal. It's a feeling I've never felt before," Utah guard Brandon Taylor said. "I'm just super proud and I'm happy for our team. We worked so hard in the summertime. We've worked so hard. To be rewarded like how we are right now, going on to the Sweet 16, it's just amazing."
Here are some takeaways from Saturday's games in Portland:
'ZONA'S ZONE TROUBLE: The Wildcats looked tentative most of the first half against Ohio State's zone defense, with the ball becoming stagnant and their outside shots not falling. While the zone gave Arizona an advantage rebounding, it also showed it could be an effective way to slow them down for stretches.
ONE-AND-DONE? D'Angelo Russell is really good. Even really good players have bad games, and Russell had one of them for Ohio State. The standout freshman scored nine points and made just 3 of 19 shots. But he also showed flashes of why he's a projected NBA lottery pick, adding seven rebounds and six assists including a dazzling, cross-court, no-look pass during a fast break in what was probably his last collegiate game. He declined to say whether he will declare for the NBA draft and said his poor shooting performance will have no impact on his decision.
BALANCED UTES: Utah has been as difficult to defend as anyone. The Utes got contributions from all over against Georgetown and in its tournament-opening win against Stephen F. Austin. Five players scored in double-digits against the Hoyas, when Utah shot 57.9 percent overall and 57 percent from 3-point range. If the Utes can keep it up, look out.
EARLY EXITS: Georgetown quieted some of its critics with an 84-74 win against Big Sky champion Eastern Washington in its tournament opener. The Hoyas heated them up again with the loss to Utah, another early exit for coach John Thompson III's teams. Georgetown last made it out of the round of 32 under Thompson in 2007, when it advanced to the Final Four. The Hoyas settled for an NIT invitation last year after getting bounced as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament by No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.
SIZE MATTERS: Arizona's inside presence might've made the biggest difference in its first two games. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 43-26 against Ohio State and 31-17 against Texas Southern. Arizona entered the weekend second in the nation with a plus-9.0 rebounding margin and rank first nationally in defensive rebounding percentage at 77.6 percent.