Despite an ugly first 34 minutes, Arizona has won the right to its rematch against Wisconsin in the West Regional final. The Wildcats beat Xavier 68-60 on Thursday night.
T.J. McConnell wasn’t his steady self for a large portion of the game, but he still ended up with a 17-point, six-rebound, five-assist line. Stanley Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski added 12 for the Wildcats, and Matt Stainbrook had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the way for Xavier.
But it really can’t be underestimated enough how this one could have gone the other way. The Musketeers had their way with the Wildcats in the first half, making the game ugly by switching up defensive looks and forcing the Wildcats to adjust. They also dominated the interior of the game early, outscoring the Wildcats 22-12 in the paint in the first 20 minutes, and forcing the Wildcats into contested, long jump shots.
And for a large part of the second half, that strategy continued to work. Xavier settled into a 1-3-1 zone that seemed to stifle the Wildcats at times. Arizona has had a tendency to get stagnant throughout the season offensively, and that’s exactly what happened early as Xavier led for a large portion of the half and controlled the tempo.
But it didn’t last. The Wildcats pushed through and figured out how to get the ball into the middle of the zone, and notched a 1.33 points-per-possession mark for the half in total. The defense also picked up, beginning to take Stainbrook out of the game with well-timed double teams. They forced six turnovers, and didn’t allow the Musketeers to get out in transition.