Xavier fought to the end, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as Arizona escaped the Sweet 16 with a 68-60 win over the Musketeers.
It was a rough night for the Wildcats, who shot just 40.7% (22-54) against the Xavier zone. They were also out-rebounded in the first half, a very uncharacteristic turn of events for the best defensive rebounding team in the country.
But it was the Arizona defense that kept them in the game, holding Xavier to 43.1% (22-51) shooting from the field and a paltry 17.6% (3-17) from beyond the three point line.
Xavier’s key weapon was Matt Stainbrook, who double-doubled with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. He was a problem all night for Arizona’s vaunted defense, converting 6 of 11 shots and 5 of 7 free throws. If the Wildcats have Final Four hopes, they will have to do a better job stopping interior scorers.
TJ McConnell once again led Arizona with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. It wasn’t a perfect night for the senior point guard, however, as he had an atypical 4 turnovers. But in the end, the veteran leadership and composure of McConnell helped the Wildcats pull out a close victory.
Sean Miller was forced into tightening his rotation, with the starting lineup all logging 30 or more minutes. Only one player of the bench saw double digit minutes, with Gabe York playing 20.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson appeared to sustain a painful injury to his knee or leg, falling to the ground while wincing. He returned to the game, but finished with just 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals in 30 minutes.
In a recent trend, Arizona’ stellar performance at the free throw line was a key to victory. The Wildcats earned 19 free throw attempts, converting 17 of them. Kaleb Tarczewski was clutch at the line, hitting 6 of 6 attempts including some critical ones down the stretch.
Tarczewski was a bright spot down low, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. The junior center’s toughness was instrumental when Xavier appeared to be taking command, but Tarczewski put the team on his back and carried his teammates at times.
Stanley Johnson was the only other Wildcat in double figures scoring, putting up 12 points on 4 of 10 shooting. He also had 6 rebounds and hit 2 of 5 three point attempts.
Next up for Arizona is a Saturday rematch with 1 seed Wisconsin in the Elite 8, with a Final Four spot on the line.