Wildcats looking to advance

Arizona will face Duke on Thursday with hopes of making the Elite Eight.

It came down to the wire in both contests, but when the dust settled, Arizona left Tulsa with victories over 12th-seeded Memphis and fourth seeded Texas and a berth in its second Sweet 16 in three seasons. The Wildcats hope to have a better result than it their last Sweet 16, when they lost by 39 as a 12-seed to number one overall seed Louisville in Indianapolis.

This time around, UA won't have to travel very far to play, but the challenge is equally as daunting; as the Wildcats will take on the top seed Duke Blue Devils from the Honda Center in Anaheim in a 6:45 MST tipoff.

The last time these two teams met, the Blue Devils won the 2001 National Championship with an 82-72 victory over the Wildcats from the Metrodome in Minneapolis. UA will definitely need to shoot better than 18 percent from three and 39 percent overall from the field as it did in 2001 in order to have a chance to win this game.

Duke is led by one of the most iconic figures in sports in head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who with his team's 73-71 third round victory over Michigan now has 900 career wins as a coach. He currently owns a .787 winning percentage at Duke, and needs only three more wins to become college basketball's most victorious coach.

Coach K's four national championships, including last year's title, rank only behind John Wooden's 10 National Titles in college basketball history. His team this year is once again loaded with talent and is certainly one of the favorites among the 16 teams remaining to make it to Houston.

The Blue Devils made it to Anaheim with an 87-45 win over Hampton and the win over Michigan. With superstar freshman Kyrie Irving back in the fold, an already dangerous Duke team appears to be even more potent and poised for a deep run in the tournament.

It appeared Duke's title chances were going to take a hit when Irving went down after only eight games with a severe toe injury. At the time, the top point guard and the number two overall player in the class of 2010 was averaging 17.4 points and 5.1 assists per game and marched the Blue Devils out to an 8-0 start.

He missed the team's next 26 games, but sent ripples through the college basketball world when Coach K announced he would return for the tournament. So far in 20.5 minutes off the bench, the 6-foot-2 potential lottery pick has averaged 12.5 points and has provided Duke with a huge boost and gives it another star player on their roster.

Irving's absence forced Nolan Smith to step up and handle the ball for the Blue Devils, and he responded by being selected as the ACC Player of the Year and a First-Team All-American. The 6-foot-2 senior led the ACC in scoring and is averaging 21 points per contest on the season on 35.4 percent from three and 46.4 percent shooting overall.

Smith is one of the most complete guards in the country, as he also keeps his teammates involved with 5.2 assists per game. He also hits the boards effectively as shown by his 4.5 rebounds per game. On top of all of that, he was an All-ACC Defensive Team selection and is a finalist for the Naismith Trophy.

Smith was always a good player, but as a senior he's taken his game to an entirely different level. He may be the most complete player Arizona has faced all season and poses a tremendously difficult matchup for the Wildcats.

After Irving went down with the foot injury, Seth Curry stepped into the starting lineup in his place. After transferring from Liberty University, the 6-foot-2 sophomore is the team's leading three-pointer shooter at 43.8 percent, and is its fourth leading scorer at 9. 2 points in 25.4 minutes per outing.

The brother of Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, Seth has carried on the family tradition of being a lights out shooter from distance. UA's strong three-point defense can ill-afford to have an off day with Curry putting it up from behind the arc.

In the frontcourt, the Blue Devils have one of the best players in program history in Kyle Singler. The 6-foot-8 senior, who returned to school for his senior year after being named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player a season ago, is Duke's fourth all-time leading scorer with 2374 career points, and is one of 103 players in NCAA history with 2000 career points and 1000 career rebounds.

Singler, a two-time preseason All-American and a two-time All-ACC selection, is second on the team with a scoring average of 16.9 points per contest. He's the team's second leading rebounder at 6.8 boards per outing, and is shooting 42.6 percent from the field, although his 31.6 percent three-point percentage is a career low.

One knack on Singler is his ability to create shots for himself. Duke runs a lot of plays and sets in order to create space for Singler to put up a shot since shot creation is not one of his major strengths. Whichever UA defender draws the assignment of Singler needs to fight through screens and keep a hand in his face in order to force him into tough shots.

Controlling the paint for Duke are the Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles. Mason, the younger of the two, turned in a sophomore season in which he averaged 7.1 points and a team-leading 8.4 rebounds per contest and an Honorable Mention All-ACC selection.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore is the team leader in blocked shots and shooting percentage, as he averages 1.6 blocks and 59.2 percent shooting in 25.5 minutes per game. He's a very athletic big man and has the potential to give Derrick Williams all kinds of problems in the paint with his agility and size.

Miles, a 6-foot-10 junior, is not quite the presence his brother is, as he's averaging just 4.8 points in 17.1 minutes. He is however the team's third leading rebounder at 4.9 boards per contest, and is making over half his shot attempts at 52.2 percent.

The Blue Devils are not a very deep team, and aside from Irving, Coach K will only use two players off the bench. As a backcourt reserve, 6-foot-4 sophomore Andre Dawkins is averaging eight points per game while shooting 42.6 percent from three and 47.8 percent from the field overall.

In the frontcourt, Ryan Kelly will likely see more time than starter Miles Plumlee, as he averages 20.3 minutes per game. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is averaging 6.8 points per contest and is fourth on the team in rebounding with 3.8 boards per outing.

He's great near the basket with a 52.5 percent field goal percentage, and even has a little touch from three, as he's connected on 32.4 percent of his three-point tries. He'll give Duke quality minutes on the block and he's another athletic, agile, and capable big man for the Blue Devils.

For the second consecutive game, Arizona is set to take on a talented and experienced basketball team. Many of these Duke players have been here before and know what it takes to advance to the Final Four and win a National Championship.

It will take a similar effort to the one Arizona used to beat Texas to upend Duke, as defensive intensity, offensive efficiency, and winning the turnover battle will have to remain points of emphasis for Sean Miller's squad.

Duke is clearly more talented. The Blue Devils obviously have more experience. And even though Sean Miller is obviously a great and upcoming coach, and Arizona itself is a great program, Coach K is one of the best leaders of one of college basketball's institutions.

But none of those are Arizona's strengths. The Wildcats rely on heart, hustle, intensity, determination, and team work. That recipe has not failed UA this season, and no matter the outcome of the game, it will give everything it's got in pursuit of the Elite Eight.

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