College sports fans in the state of Arizona can finally turn their attention to baseball. The deep run by the last standing Arizona team, the University of Arizona Wildcats, through the NCAA Tournament ended last night, agonizingly close to making it to the fifth Final Four in the history of the program.
How close? Wisconsin won by one point in overtime in a game that was too close to call from start to finish,with eight points the largest lead for either team. And neither team led by more than three points during the final 12 minutes of the game.
The 64-63 Badgers win was a big one for the Wisconsin head coach since it was the first time 69-year-old Bo Ryan has coached a team that has made it into the Final Four. In his 12 years at Wisconsin, he’s taken five teams to the Sweet 16 and one to the Elite Eight, but the Badgers’ last trip to the Final Four came a couple of years before he got there.
Arizona’s fifth-year head coach, 45-year-old Sean Miller, will have to wait at least another year to try again for his first. This was his third Elite Eight appearance as a head coach, two in Tucson, and the year analysts had given him a good chance to break through to the Final Four.
If the NCAA Tournament handed out a trophy for Most Exciting Game, last night’s brawl would have to be in the running. Despite the fact that it was relatively low-scoring, there was plenty to keep fans’ attention. Actually, the scrappy, over-the-top defensive effort by two of the best defensive teams in Division I was, in many ways, a major part of the excitement.
The game closed on a controversial call that gave the ball to the Cats for the final 2.3 seconds of the overtime period, enough time to get off one last shot to win the game. But the ball left Nick Johnson‘s hand a fraction of a second too late and the Badgers began the celebration.
Arizona had no answer for Wisconsin’s 7-foot junior center, Frank Kaminsky, who was a step faster than Arizona’s own 7-footer, Kaleb Tarczewski, and a little too big for the 6’9″ Aaron Gordon, who also tried his hand at containing the big guy. Kaminsky finished the game with a double-double, 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Johnson, the Gilbert native who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, had scoring lapses, including missing his final five shots of the game, but still led the Cats with 16 points. Tarczewski followed with 12 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit double digits with 10 points. Gordon was held below his scoring average, with eight points, but had a career game on the boards, collecting 18 rebounds.
Wisconsin’s coach Ryan recently lost his father and last night’s victory, the biggest of his career, came on what would have been his dad’s 90th birthday. So it was extra special for Ryan.
And Miller said after the game that he hoped Ryan’s team would go all the way this year, figuring the coach deserved it after all these years.
But Miller’s career has a long road ahead – and most likely a Final Four of his own before very long.
(Photo: Wisconsin Athletics)