Men’s basketball: Wisconsin to take on talented Arizona team with spot in Final Four on the line

first_imgLOS ANGELES – It was the matchup that everyone had circled when the brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament were revealed on March 15.A rematch of last season’s West Regional final between Wisconsin and Arizona was possible once again this season as the top-seeded Badgers and second-seeded Wildcats were set to meet in the Elite Eight in Los Angeles should both teams win their first three games.Fast forward 13 days and it’s game on once again, as Wisconsin (34-3) and Arizona (34-3) will play Saturday at the Staples Center in the West Regional finals for a berth in the Final Four.Last season’s game between the Badgers and Wildcats was perhaps one of the best of the tournament as Wisconsin snuck out a 64-63 win in overtime to advance to its first Final Four under current head coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin forward and Big Ten Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky had essentially his national coming out game against Arizona last season, scoring a game-high 28 points with 11 rebounds as the Badgers knocked off the No.1 seed Arizona.“It was a good game,” Kaminsky said. “It was kind of a culmination of what I had been flirting with the whole season. I had games like that but I wasn’t very consistent. And I think just the whole tournament last year was consistent for me. It really helped my confidence coming into this season.”But while Arizona is the two-seed this season and Wisconsin sits as the top-ranked team in the West Region, the Wildcats are loaded with talent. And they’ll have two players in the starting lineup who didn’t even play in last season’s matchup.One key piece to Arizona’s team this season is freshman forward Stanley Johnson. Johnson was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, earning Pac-12 first-team honors in the process. The Fullerton, California native leads the Wildcats in scoring (14 points per game) and is second on the team in rebounds with 6.6 per game.Along with Johnson, forward Brandon Ashley – who didn’t play in the NCAA tournament for the Wildcats last season after suffering a foot injury earlier in the season – averages 12.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for Arizona. Ashley was selected as the Pac-12 tournament Most Outstanding Player.“Obviously the guys they have coming back are better and you bring back Ashley, you bring Stanley Johnson, everyone else has gotten better,” Wisconsin fifth-year senior Josh Gasser said. “Even though they lost a couple of pieces, they’re still a heck of a team and it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”Arizona, who returned to the Elite Eight after a 68-60 win over Xavier Thursday, also returns forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, guard T.J. McConnell and center Kaleb Tarczewski to this year’s team. Both Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell were first-team all-Pac-12 selections this season.McConnell is also a Pac-12 all-defensive team selection and ranks 10th nationally in assists per game with 6.3 and is seventh in the country with a 3.11 assist-to-turnover ratio.“We know he’s a great on-the-court leader,” Kaminsky said of McConnell. “He can do a lot of things. He knows how to get his teammates involved in the game. He can score, he can rebound, he can pass. So it’s hard to frustrate a player like that.”With Arizona returning their talent and the Badgers riding high with a two comeback wins to advance to their second straight Elite Eight, Saturday’s matchup could turn out much like the game from nearly a year ago.“It’s going to be the same type of battle, the same type of grit that’s going to be needed,” Wisconsin junior forward Sam Dekker said. “Obviously, they want to make a Final Four and so do we. And we’re going take a lot of pride in our game and go out there and try to get a big win.”No. 1 Wisconsin (34-3)NCAA Tournament:Second Round – Defeated Coastal Carolina 86-72Third Round – Defeated Oregon 72-65Sweet 16 – Defeated North Carolina 79-72Probable Starters: G – Bronson Koenig (6-4, 8.6 ppg), G – Josh Gasser (6-4, 6.8 ppg), F – Sam Dekker (6-9, 13.5 ppg), F – Nigel Hayes (6-8, 12.5 ppg), F – Frank Kaminsky (7-0, 18.4 ppg)Key Reserves: G – Traevon Jackson (6-3, 9.1 ppg), G – Zak Showalter (6-2, 2.2 ppg), F – Duje Dukan (6-10, 4.8 ppg)No. 2 Arizona (34-3)NCAA Tournament:Second Round – Defeated Texas Southern 93-72Third Round – Defeated Ohio State 73-58Sweet 16 – Defeated Xavier 68-60Probable Starters: G – T.J. McConnell (6-1, 10.3 ppg), F – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6-7, 11.1 ppg), F – Stanley Johnson (6-7, 14.0 ppg), F – Brandon Ashley (6-9, 12.1 ppg), C – Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0, 9.2 ppg)Key Reserves: G – Gabe York (6-3, 9.1 ppg), G – Elliott Pitts (6-5, 3.6 ppg), C – Dusan Ristic (7-0, 3.5 ppg)Game VitalsWho: No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 2 ArizonaWhen: Saturday, March 28, 5:09 CSTWhere: Staples Center (19,709); Los Angeles, CaliforniaTV: TBS (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Rachel Nichols)last_img

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