Sweet 16 Thursday Recap: Arizona Surges Past Duke

    
March 25th, 2011
Of the four games played on Thursday night the matchup between West top-seed Duke and five-seed Arizona was the game people thought could provide a double-digit margin. The defending national champions were a solid favorite going in and they played as such in the first half, taking a 44-38 lead into the locker room thanks to a 16-6 edge in points in the paint and 12-5 in points off turnovers. Kyle Singler and Kyrie Irving scored 14 points apiece to lead the Blue Devils, who were far more balanced than an Arizona team that featured a lot of Derrick Williams and little of much else. Williams scored 25 points in the first half, making 8 of 11 shots from the field (5-6 3PT) and grabbing six rebounds.

Despite Williams' Herculean efforts it was obvious that head coach Sean Miller would need more from the "supporting cast" if the Wildcats were to come back, and the coach made a strategic move to start the second half that would change the course of the contest. Arizona shared the responsibilities on the offensive end of the floor, shooting 58.3% in the second half with Solomon Hill and MoMo Jones being two of the players to rise to the occasion. Hill finished with 13 points and five rebounds while Jones scored 16 and dished out six assists without a turnover, sparking a 19-2 Arizona run that wrestled away control of the game. The Wildcats were outstanding on the boards in the second half as well, out-rebounding Duke 25-9 in what ended up being an absolute pasting. The final: 93-77, advancing Arizona to the regional final where they'll take on Connecticut on Saturday night.

"The one huge turnaround in the second half and that was like a second game [Texas], we were a total team," said Coach Miller. "We were revved up. We had a lot of guys playing at a very high level, and we rebounded. At the end of the day, 40 rebounds for Arizona, 27 for Duke and a lot of that happened in the second half."

The easy thing to do when looking at what happened to the ACC Tournament champions would be to point at Nolan Smith's struggles (3-14 FG, eight points) and assume that the return of Irving (28 points) did more harm than good to the on-court chemistry. That would be unfair because even though the dynamic clearly changed with the freshman back on the floor it was the offensive end that did in Duke. Allowing 16 offensive rebounds (47% offensive rebounding percentage) for the game and being outscored 24-6 in the paint in the second half will get any team in trouble, much less one that had its issues matching up with one of the premier frontcourt players in the nation. Arizona has a number of versatile players who get lost in the shuffle due to the infatuation with Williams, and they made Duke pay as the game wore on in what looked similar to what St. John's was able to accomplish last month.

The path that Arizona has taken to this point didn't begin in October but on the day that then-athletic director Jim Livengood made the move to hire Miller away from Xavier. There was a three-year period that was nearly a basketball version of a daytime soap opera thanks in large part to instability at the top of the program, but they were able to grow once that issue was taken care of. It also didn't hurt that USC was going through their issues, resulting in Hill, Jones and Williams ending up in Tucson. After watching a 25-year streak of going to the NCAA Tournament end last season, being 40 minutes away from a Final Four had to seem like a dream far off in the distance for even the biggest Arizona fan. Thanks to a cast led by Coach Miller and his staff, the dream is now a reality.

"[Miller's] a really good guy, but he's a great coach and he had his team so well prepared," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "It was a great hire for them, to build back a brand that was right -- you know, it's there."

West: Connecticut makes the big plays late to beat San Diego State.

In NCAA Tournament games against teams playing in their home state, UConn went into Thursday's game against San Diego State with a record of 0-7 all-time. And with a number of SDSU fans making the 100-mile trek north to Anaheim there was no disputing the fact that they would essentially be playing a road game. But the Huskies did not fold in the face of an emotional start from the Aztecs, outscoring the Mountain West tournament champions 19-5 over the final 6:34 to take a 36-27 lead into the locker room. San Diego State would answer as champions do and the second half was tight throughout, but UConn would not succumb to the pressure.

Jeremy Lamb supplemented Kemba Walker's 36 points with 24 of his own, also making a crucial steal with 26 seconds remaining that eventually resulted in a dunk that pushed the lead out to 70-64. A pair of Walker free throws and another Lamb dunk later and the Huskies were headed to the Elite Eight with a 74-67 win. No other Husky scored more than five points but that doesn't mean that others failed to contribute. Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith combined to grab 17 rebounds and Shabazz Napier added six assists to just one turnover. As the youngsters have become more comfortable in their roles Connecticut has taken off, winning eight straight games and sitting just one win away from the Final Four. That's a fact few could envision for this team in February.

Southeast: An unheralded offensive rebound late in regulation gives Florida the boost they need to beat BYU.

When can it be a victory to get to overtime despite having the final shot of regulation? Maybe when that final shot was a result of some hustle from your point guard to grab an offensive rebound, effectively keeping the ball out of the hands of one of America's deadliest shooters. Erving Walker was able to chase down a Kenny Boynton missed three with 24 seconds to go, meaning that BYU would have to play for OT as opposed to getting the ball to Jimmer Fredette. Chandler Parsons missed his baseline attempt in the final seconds but that simply delayed the inevitable as Florida scored eight of the first ten points of overtime. The two-seed in the Southeast eventually won 83-74 with four starters reaching double figures.

Alex Tyus led the way with 19 points and 17 rebounds and in a game that featured a combined 71 three-point attempts Florida outscored BYU 33-30 from beyond the arc. Fredette scored a game-high 32 points in his final game but no other Cougar scored more than nine, spelling doom for BYU as the senior needed 29 shots to get his points. Both teams relied on the three quite a bit, but Florida shot much better on two-point shots and their ability to work the ball inside ultimately paid off. The Gators made 64.5% of their twos to just 44.1% for BYU. Florida was the more efficient team offensively, something they'll need to happen on Saturday afternoon when they deal with a stingy Butler defense.

Butler jumps out to a big second half lead before hanging on to advance to their second straight Elite Eight.

While much of the nation was captivated by the sudden turn of events in Anaheim the Butler Bulldogs were putting on a clinic on both ends of the floor. Brad Stevens' team went on a 15-3 run over a 10+ minute stretch to take a 42-24 lead with 14:31 remaining, taking away any good looks Wisconsin hoped to find with their swing offense and executing well offensively. Butler would lead by as many as 20 points, looking rather secure as the game entered the final minute. But the Badgers would not go quietly, making a final charge to cut the Butler lead to four before ultimately falling short 61-54. Jordan Taylor led Wisconsin with 22 points but just like Fredette in the first game of the night balance trumped the offensive soloist.

Matt Howard scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs offensively while also doing a good job defensively on Jon Leuer (1-12 FG, three points), and Shelvin Mack (13 points) and Shawn Vanzant (10) also reached double figures. Wisconsin shot 30.4% from the field for the game, making 27.3% of their shots in the second half. Butler does an outstanding job of taking opponents out of what they want to run, resulting in a number of challenged shots throughout the course of a game. The Badgers, who are far better in the role of leader due to their offensive tempo, weren't able to do enough down the stretch defensively to turn the Bulldogs over and capitalize. What happened to Wisconsin can definitely happen to Florida if they aren't careful. Butler's no "Cinderella", just an excellent program that does things its way and wins quite often because of it.

Notable Performances

1. F Derrick Williams (Arizona)
32 points (11-17 FG) and 13 rebounds in the Wildcats' 93-77 win over Duke in a West regional semifinal.

2. F Alex Tyus (Florida)
19 points (8-9 FG) and 17 rebounds in Florida's 83-74 overtime win over BYU in a Southeast region semifinal.

3. G Kemba Walker (Connecticut)
36 points (12-25 FG), three rebounds and three assists in the Huskies' 74-67 win over San Diego State in a West region semifinal.

4. F Matt Howard (Butler)
20 points and 12 rebounds in the Bulldogs' 71-64 win over Wisconsin in a Southeast region semifinal. He also helped limit Jon Leuer to 1-for-12 shooting from the field.