Opportunities like the one Arizona is facing don’t come around all that often.
And this doesn’t just refer to an Elite Eight appearance. Instead, the Wildcats can clinch their first Final Four for the program since 2001 by avenging one of last year’s great disappointments.
In one of the most thrilling games of last year’s NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin defeated Arizona 64-63 in overtime. Not only is this a rematch, the game features many of the same key figures. Wisconsin returned nearly its entire roster since last season. Arizona returns T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York.
The loss has given Arizona reason to simmer for a year.
“It gave us a long time to think about it, and we watched them go to a Final Four and lose at the buzzer to Kentucky,” McConnell said. “We thought that should have been us. But that's driven all of us to work as hard as we did in the summer and as hard as we did this season to be as good as we are.”
The coaches are also back. Last year’s meeting gave Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan his first Final Four appearance. Now, Arizona’s Sean Miller is atop the list of best coaches without a trip to the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona hopes to change that trend while Wisconsin would like nothing more than to have history repeat itself.
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 1 Wisconsin
Region: West (Los Angeles)
Time: Saturday, 6:09 p.m., ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Dan Bonner
Line: Arizona by 1 1/2
Matchup to Watch: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky vs. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski
The Badgers’ big man was the key figure in last year’s meeting, scoring 28 points. He’ll be matched up again against the seven-footer Tarczewski. He was instrumental in disrupting Matt Stainbrook in the last round against Xavier. Stainbrook had 17 points and 10 rebounds, but Arizona wanted to shut down his passing (two assists, three turnovers) and offensive rebounding (one). Besides approaching 30 points last season, Kaminsky had seven offensive boards against the Wildcats.
Tournament Surprise: Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter
The Badgers rely heavily on their starting five, even though Traevon Jackson returned to play nine minutes in the Sweet 16 against North Carolina. Showalter, though, came off the bench to give Wisconsin three quick buckets in eight minutes against the Tar Heels.
Arizona will win if...
The Wildcats can muster some 3-point shooting. Wisconsin allows opponents to covert 37.4 percent of their 3-point shots, ranking 302nd in the country. That would be a more troubling number for the Badgers if they didn’t give up the ninth-fewest 3-pointers. Arizona is 19-of-52 from 3 in this Tournament.
Wisconsin will win if...
Sam Dekker is a beast again. Dekker was the best player on the court against North Carolina, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Tar Heels. He was especially dangerous around the basket, going 9-of-10 from 2-point range. If Dekker can crack a team that ranks third in defensive efficiency, Wisconsin could go to its second consecutive Final Four.
Athlon Staff Predictions
David Fox: Arizona 60-57
Braden Gall: Arizona 67-64
Mitch Light: Arizona 56-50
Jake Rose: Wisconsin 74-69