The Arizona Wildcats continued to stick it to the nation with a 71-57 victory over Cleveland State.
Those outcries of disgust over Arizona making the tournament are slowly starting to turn into screams of Cinderella. Those folks on the selection committee are looking like geniuses right now.
Cleveland State made the most noise of any team in the tournament, when they upset Wake Forest in the first round. It would have not only been poetic justice but proof to the millions that thought they were unworthy, if Cleveland State could have pulled off another upset by upending Arizona.
The Wildcats would not falter.
Every victory Arizona records is not only a giant middle finger to the nation but a validation for the selection of an average power conference team over an above average mid-major.
It’s hard to imagine a program that is as rich in tradition as Arizona being a Cinderella, but in a year where they are a 12 seed and the only team seeded higher than five remaining, Arizona has a chance to take on a different role.
The Cinderella Wildcats from Arizona will march into Indianapolis and the Sweet 16 to take on the No.1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals.
Arizona never trailed in Sunday’s matchup with Cleveland State. To put that in retrospect, Cleveland State never trailed in their first round matchup with Wake Forest.
Poetic justice indeed.
Cleveland State was thoroughly dominated by Arizona. Only two players on CSU’s roster scored in double figures. Between them, they accounted for 32 of Cleveland State’s 57 points.
Cedric Jackson (15) and Norris Cole (17) were the only Vikings to matter in this contest. Cleveland State was 22-59 (37.3%) from the field, 3-23 (13%) from beyond the arc and only generated three assists the entire game.
Cleveland State was unable to duplicate their run to the regional final in 1986—the only other time they made the tournament. Their magical run was stopped short in only the second game, but this will be a great building block for this young program.
The Wildcats had four players who scored at least 15 points in the contest. They only got four points from the rest of the team.
Chase Budinger (15 pts), Jamelle Horne (15 pts), Jordan Hill (16 pts), and Nic Wise (21 pts) carried the Wildcats offensively. Hill led the Wildcats with nine rebounds, and Wise led ‘Zona with eight assists.
Arizona hit 22-44 field goal attempts, was 24-28 from the free-throw line, but only shot 3-11 from beyond the arc,
For the Wildcats to continue on their fairytale ride, they will need to shoot better from the three-point line. Louisville will not be penetrated so easily down low.
Cleveland State will be going home early, but they should not be disappointed. A big victory over Wake Forest not only put Cleveland State on the map, but it successfully destroyed every office bracket in America.
The Vikings pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, but another win by Arizona and it’s the Wildcats' tale that people will remember.
Arizona has several big wins on their resume this year. The Wildcats have beaten San Diego State, UCLA, Washington, USC, and Kansas.
Arizona has been inconsistent with their play this year. They are getting hot at the right time and are looking to shock the world.
"When you look at the NCAA tournament, a lot of times the teams that get hot at the right time are teams that had to struggle to get in," interim coach Russ Pennell said. "What's happening now doesn't surprise me with this team. We've seen it before at points in the season."
In their 25th consecutive tournament appearance, the Wildcats are entering the Sweet 16 for the 12th time since 1988. Never before have there been so many doubters. "Making it to the Sweet 16 feels great," Budinger said. "We're showing that we're a lot better than what people thought of us."
Arizona will not be entering the round of 16 as a perennial powerhouse but rather the Cinderella team avoiding the stroke of midnight.