Breakdown: No.2 Arizona vs. No.1 Wisconsin

Looking to make consecutive Final Four appearances, Wisconsin must once again get through Arizona in California, as the West Region's top two seeds meet for the second straight year in the Elite Eight Saturday evening in Los Angeles. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

No.2 Arizona (34-3, 16-2 Pac 12) vs. No.1 Wisconsin (34-3, 16-2 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, March 28, 5:09 p.m. Central

Arena – Staples Center (19,079) – Los Angeles

Television - TBS (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Rachel Nichols)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

National Radio - Westwood One (Wayne Larrivee and Donny Marshall)

Series – Wisconsin leads 4-2 (Wisconsin leads 4-1 on neutral court)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 64-63, in overtime on March 29, 2014 in Anaheim, CA

Wisconsin Probable Starters

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 12.5 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-9 Junior Forward, 13.5 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-4 Senior Guard, 6.8 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 8.6 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Senior Forward, 18.4 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 2.2 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-3 Senior Guard, 9.1 ppg)

13 Duje Dukan (6-10 Senior Forward, 4.8 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 1.9 ppg)

Arizona Probable Starters

4 T.J. McConnell (6-1 Senior Guard, 10.3 ppg)

5 Stanley Johnson (6-7 Freshman Forward, 14.0 ppg)

21 Brandon Ashley (6-9 Junior Forward, 12.1 ppg)

23 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 11.1 ppg)

35 Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0 Junior Center, 9.2 ppg)

Off the Bench

0 Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5-10 Freshman Guard, 2.9 ppg)

1 Gabe York (6-3 Junior Guard, 9.1 ppg)

14 Dusan Ristic (7-0 Freshman Center, 3.5 ppg)

24 Elliott Pitts (6-5 Sophomore Guard, 3.6 ppg)

Last Meeting

Coming up with big stop after big stop down the stretch, the Badgers saved the best for last, as Wisconsin didn’t allow Nick Johnson to get a shot off in the final 2.3 seconds and clinch a 64-63 overtime victory over top-seeded Arizona in the West Regional final in front of 17,184 fans at the Honda Center.

The Final Four is the first for Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, considered the missing piece of his sparking resume, and it comes on the day of his late father’s 90th birthday and on the 73rd anniversary of the school’s one and only national championship.

Named the West region’s most valuable player, Kaminsky scored a game-high 28 points – the second most points in a tournament game for a UW player in school history - and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Going 11-for-20 from the floor, Kaminsky was the only starter who shot over 40 percent, as the Badgers were held to 39.3 percent shooting by a defense that held 21 of its 38 opponents under the 40 percent mark.

A seesaw affair that saw seven ties and yielded plenty of tension in the second half, Wisconsin and Arizona (33-5) traded punches well into overtime, each answering one another’s bucket with one of its own for the first two minutes of the extra session. UW took the lead for good after Kaminsky made a tough right-handed hook shot in the face of 7-0 center Kaleb Tarczewski.

On the ensuing possession, Josh Gasser – who finished 1-for-5 shooting – wrestled away a rebound from Tarczewski after Nick Johnson’s shot rimmed out and drew a foul.

Following Gasser going 1-for-2 from the line and Tarczewski making a pair of foul shots on the ensuing possession, Kaminsky delivered the eventual winner, tipping in an offensive rebound off a Traevon Jackson miss to put UW up 64-61 with 1:11 remaining. Despite Arizona’s length inside, the Wildcats barely outrebounded Wisconsin 39-38 and were dead tied on the offensive glass at 13 apiece.

But it was the defense that carried Wisconsin to the final line. With Arizona able to hold for the final shot, Gasser drew a questionable charge call on Johnson with 3.2 seconds left when the Pac-12 player of the year drove the lane and appeared to lower his left shoulder into Gasser at the high block.

In the final 10:25, Gasser held Johnson without a point, helping UW beat a top four seed in the tournament under Ryan for the first time.

Jackson – Wisconsin’s Mr. Clutch - had a chance to win it in regulation and got a good look, but was just short on his step back attempt from just inside the 3-point range. He also grazed an inbounds pass out of bounds following Gasser’s drawn charge, a review that took approximately five minutes, giving the ball back to Arizona with 2.3 seconds left in the extra session and the Wildcats down one.

But the junior made up for it on the final play, meeting Johnson at the 3-point line and cutting off his driving lane to the basket, allowing just enough time to tick off and the celebration to commence.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Last Time Out

LOS ANGELES - Survive and advance is the name of the game. The history of the NCAA tournament is littered with perceived great teams who didn’t win a national championship, let alone make a Final Four.

What category the University of Wisconsin falls into is still being written, but the chapters already in the book make one thing clear: the Badgers have the ability to sense urgency and do something about it.

“Good teams know how to win,” said junior Sam Dekker, whose big night on the national stage gave top-seed Wisconsin a 79-72 victory over fourth-seed North Carolina at the Staples Center Thursday night in a West Regional semifinal. “That’s the thing. There’s a lot of teams that are talented, just as talented as us, but they don’t know how to win at times.

“Coach (Ryan) says a winning mindset brings a winning attitude wherever it is. That rubs off and you know you are going to win no matter the score.”

On a night where his teammates had to fight for their offense, Dekker carried the burden. His 23 points (10-for-15) were a career high and his 10 rebounds represented his first double-double of the season.

Frank Kaminsky finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds, Nigel Hayes added 12 points and Traevon Jackson scored four points in his return to the lineup.

With a lot of his players’ bloodied and bruised, Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard picked up the final box score, grabbed a pen and started to circle some numbers.

The first he went for was points in the paint, an area where North Carolina (26-12) averages 37.5 points and where Wisconsin held the Tar Heels to only 28. Next he circled Wisconsin’s turnovers against the Tar Heels’ pressure. It was the number five, which included only one miscue from UW’s guards against 10 assists.

Lastly he circled the shooting numbers of Hayes, Kaminsky and Bronson Koenig, who shot 10-for-31 overall and 3-for-19 in the first half. His reaction when he was done? Gutsy.

“They have huge heart,” said Gard. “They are very talented and everyone talks about that. Obviously we’ve got really good players, but deep down they’re a group that has a lot of fight in them. They won’t quit. They won’t back down when things get a little rough. We’ve had it during the year, this tournament run, they’ve been able to dig deep and circle the wagons and rally back.”

Down seven with just over 11 minutes to go, Wisconsin made its move by getting production from many sources: Koenig hit a 3-pointer, Showalter attacking the rim and battling through ramps, Josh Gasser with a 3-pointer and the Badgers going 14-for-15 from the free throw line in the second half.

And of course there was Dekker, who scored 15 of UW’s 31 first-half points and used his athleticism to dunk or finish at the rim. After shooting 36.7 percent in the first half, Wisconsin averaged 1.55 points per possession in the second half, closing the final 6:20 on a 23-12 run.

- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Series Notes

Wisconsin is 27-31 against the Pac 12 conference, including 2-0 this season and 5-1 in the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin and Arizona have met three times in the NCAA tournament. In 2014, the 2nd-seeded Badgers knocked off No. 1 seed Arizona with a 64-63 overtime final in the 2014 NCAA Tournament West Regional Final. In 2006, UA topped UW 94-75 in an NCAA first-round game. In 2000, the 8th-seeded Badgers upset the No. 1 seeded Wildcats, 66-59.

Bo Ryan holds a 2-1 advantage in three all-time meetings with Sean Miller. Ryan’s Badgers topped Miller’s Wildcats in last year’s regional final and also in a 65-61 final in the 2009 Maui Invitational. Miller was the head coach at Xavier when the No. 4 seed Musketeers knocked the No. 12 Badgers out of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

Ryan and Arizona sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are both natives of Chester, Pa.

Wisconsin Notes

UW is 3-1 all-time in the Regional Finals, winning in 1941, 2000 and 2014 and losing in 2005.

UW is also looking to reach back-to-back Final Fours for the first time in school history. In the last 20 years, Michigan State is the only Big Ten team to advance to back-to-back Final Fours. The Spartans did it in 2009 and 2010 as well as three straight from 1999-2001.

During its current 9-game winning streak, Wisconsin is shooting 82.4 percent (117-142) from the free throw line. During that streak, UW has outscored its opponents by 56 points at the free throw line. North Carolina was the first team to make more than 10 free throws against Wisconsin since Jan. 31 when Iowa made 13.

Dekker is averaging 20.0 points per game during the NCAA tournament, including a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds vs. North Carolina. He is shooting 57.1% in the tourney and has hit 8 of 21 (.381) from 3-point range.

Gasser has played 109 minutes in this NCAA tournament and has eight assists and one turnover.

Arizona Notes

Led by T.J. McConnell (2.2) and Stanley Johnson (1.5), Arizona is averaging 7.3 steals per game, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and would mark UA’s highest average in Sean Miller’s tenure as head coach.

The Wildcats rank second in the nation with a +9.0 rebound margin and rank first nationally in defensive rebound percentage at 77.5 for the year; Arizona is 126-21 (.857) in Miller’s tenure when it wins the battle on the glass.

UA is one of the nation’s best teams at getting to the line, leading the nation in attempts (944) and ranking second nationally in makes (672); four of Arizona’s starters have attempted at least 140 free throws on the season.

With McConnell ranked in the top 15 nationally in assist average, steals average and assist-to-turnover ratio, Arizona is one of two teams nationally in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (also Kentucky).

Arizona is 26-0 this season when its bench outscores its opponent’s reserves; UA is getting an average of 20.9 points per game from its bench and outscoring the opponent’s bench by an average margin of 7.4 points per game.

Prediction

Arizona players heard it all Thursday night and all throughout their media availability session Friday, questions referencing last year’s one-point overtime loss to Wisconsin that sent Bo Ryan to his first Final Four and in turn likely put the distinction of the best coach in college without a Final Four on to the head of Sean Miller.

But if you think Arizona’s players are driven by revenge, stop. While it may be in the back of the minds of some players or even mentioned in the Arizona locker room before tipoff, Miller said playing Wisconsin is about winning “small victories, small battles” and hoping they all can add up in the end.

“They’re very deliberate (on the offensive end),” said Miller. “They share the ball. They’re highly skilled and intelligent. They don’t best themselves, and you’re on defense for a lot longer against them than any other team, and it’s easy to break down…We’re not going to be successful if, in fact, we do make it bigger than it needs to.”

The same could be said about Wisconsin. While the Badgers can’t play the revenge card against Arizona, they are certainly motivated to get back to the Final Four and get, in all likelihood, another shot at Kentucky in the national semifinals. That won’t happen if the Badgers don’t play a near complete 40 minutes, something they haven’t achieved in this tournament.

And it’s not like the Badgers are playing a pushover either. Arizona has a lot of pieces back from last season and added a big piece in Stanley Johnson, arguably the best freshmen west of the Mississippi River.

But nobody on the Wildcats is as vital as McConnell, who assistant coach Gary Close calls terrific, tough, competitive, comfortable with the mid-range game and plays like former UW point guard Jordan Taylor coming off ball screens. Gasser will have his hands full.

“I definitely respect T.J. McConnell,” Gasser said. “Just from watching him on TV, you can tell how hard he competes. The plays he makes are winning plays, and that's what you need. That's why Arizona has such a good record and such a hard team to beat, because they have a guy like that at the point guard position who is a great leader, tough, makes all the little plays.

“He's a fun guy to play against too, because you know you have to bring it, and they've got a lot of guys like that.”

The offensive numbers jump off the page for both teams. The Badgers – the most efficient offense in the country - have scored at least 70 points in eight straight games and are averaging 76.5 points per game during the 2015 postseason (six games). UW is 20-1 this season when scoring 70+ points.

Arizona is shooting 48.6 percent from the floor as a team to rank fifth nationally, not to mention outscoring opponents by an average of 10.1 points per game in the paint, 6.6 per game off of turnovers and 5.6 per game on second chances.

However, don’t be surprised if this game is just like last year in the sense that it’ll finish somewhere in the 60s, as both teams can bring it defensively.

Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Arizona is allowing just 0.869 points per possession and has held 22 opponents under 60 points on the season. The Wildcats are quick jump passing lanes, are long and athletic. It’s a combination that helps them average 7.1 steals per game.

While it’s been established that this isn’t Wisconsin’s best defensive team in the Ryan era, the Badgers have still held 24 of their 37 opponents to 60 points or less (UW did that only 13 times last season) and remain tops in the nation in fewest fouls, turnovers and free throw attempts per game.

And considering Arizona leads the nation in free throw attempts (944) and second nationally in makes (672), it’s another wrinkle that makes this a tossup game.

“Their coaching staff and their players are very similar to ours in the way they approach the game with businesslike attitude once they are on the court,” said Dekker. “They’ll go out and play their game. If they do that well and play Arizona basketball and we play Wisconsin basketball, it’s a tough matchup.”

While Arizona is a 1.5-point favorite, making the Badgers an underdog for the first time all year, the blueprint to beat the Wildcats was laid out by Xavier. Of the 60 points Xavier scored in the regional semifinals, 34 came in the paint, as the Musketeers’ aggressiveness and attack mode caused the Wildcats to be on their heels for long stretches of the game. That should be good news for UW’s three-man frontcourt who continues to carry the load offensively.

This Badgers team refuses to quit or give in. If they attack the post and bring the same type of defensive intensity they brought against Carolina, UW is heading back to the Final Four with a five-point win.

Worgull's Record: 35-2

Points off Prediction: 260 (7.0 per game)



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