NCAA Tournament 2011: Previewing Arizona vs. UConn
Who would've honestly thought at the beginning of the NCAA tournament we would be previewing Arizona vs. UConn? I for one can say I didn't expect this game to happen as I predicted Texas to beat Duke and lose to San Diego State in the West Regional Championship game.
However, this is the beauty of the NCAA tournament, it allows us to see things we thought were impossible happen. For example, for the first time in tournament history, four teams advanced to the Sweet 16 ranked as 10-seed or higher.
Coaching logically will be a deciding factor the reminding games of the NCAA tournament, but so will some star players.
Watching the Elite Eight usually consists of some barn-burners and tonight's game speaks volumes of a throw-your-hands-in-the-air type performance.
Inside we will discus a variety of things for tonight's matchup.
Arizona vs UConn: The History
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UConn leads the all-time series against Arizona (4-0), putting on a thriller of a finish in all four games.
It should be noted that none of these games came in the postseason or had the ramifications like Saturday's matchup.
Let's look back at those four games:
December 7, 1999—UConn 79, Arizona 69
Gilbert Arenas couldn't get it done against a well-coached UConn squad as the Huskies erupted with a 11-to-0 run to close out the game and defeated the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats in Chicago.
The Huskies Khalid El-Amin spearheaded the charge with 23 points and freshman Tony Robertson contributed a career-high, 15 points.
Gilbert Arenas led Arizona with a solid 18-point performance.
December 9, 2000—UConn 71, Arizona 69
What was a tough and final loss against the Huskies for future NBA stars, Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas, Arizona thought they forced overtime against Caron Butler and UConn.
Until with 1.8 seconds left to play, Tony Robertson's floater was blocked by Arizona center Loren Woods, with an end result of a goaltending violation and two points awarded to the Huskies.
Caron Butler led the way, scoring 16 points and Tony Roberston's winning runner resulted in 14 for the sophomore.
Michael Wright had 18 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't enough for the Wildcats.
January 26, 2002—UConn 100, Arizona 98, OT
A shootout was justified in the midwest, on this night in Tuscon, Ariz.
The overtime thriller featured future NBA stars Caron Butler, Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor vs. Luke Walton, Channing Frye and Will Bynum of Arizona. Those big names didn't matter in the end for the Wildcats, as the Huskies scored nine of the final 10 points.
Emeka Okafor was a beast leading the way with 19 points and 15 rebounds, Ben Gordon dropped 23 points and Taliek Brown contributed 21.
One of the country's premiere point guards, Jason Gardner scored a game-high 30 points on 45 percent shooting and Salim Stoudamire added 20 in the devastating loss.
November 22, 2005—UConn 79, Arizona 70
In the semifinals of the Maui Invitational, Craig Austrie scored a career-best 15 points for the Huskies, saving the day from an off night suffered by UConn star Rudy Gay—who went 2-for-10 from the field with six points.
Ivan Radenovic led the way, with 20 for a weaker than usual Wildcat team.
Jim Calhoun vs Sean Miller
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The last time UConn coach Jim Calhoun faced a team led by Arizona's coach Sean Miller was in 1992—when Miller controlled the point as a player for the University of Pittsburgh.
Jim Calhoun is a basketball Hall of Famer, has won two national titles (1999 and 2004), three Final Four appearances and has led the Huskies to seven Big East Tournament Championships.
With a .725 career winning percentage at UConn, Calhoun has produced quite the crop of professional talent with 26 former players moving onto the NBA.
Despite being suspended for the first three Big East games this season for violating NCAA rules, Calhoun kept his poise and with a victory tonight, he can finish with his eighth 30-win season at UConn—and on the level of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (12) and UNC's Roy Williams (9) as the only coaches to have more.
Sean Miller. The former A-10 Coach of the Year and is a premiere up and coming college basketball coach.
Miller's career took flight at the University of Xavier in 2004 where in five years he compiled four NCAA tournaments appearances, three regular season championships, a tournament championship and a .718 winning percentage.
Just in his second season as coach, Miller resurrected Arizona basketball, resulting in their first top 10 ranking in over three years along with the first Pac-10 regular season title and Elite Eight run since the 2004-2005 season.
The edge goes to Coach Calhoun in this match due to his history and great resume.
However, Sean Miller proved with a win against Coach K and Duke that the opposing head coach is an irrelevant factor when facing his squads.
These two coaches should give the country quite a coaching clinic with another nail-biting finish.
UConn's Frontcourt vs Arizona's Derrick Williams
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Connecticut center Charles Okwandu and forward/center Alex Oriakhi will have their hands full against the Pac-10 Player of the Year, Derrick Williams (19.5 PTS and 8.4 REBS).
Standing at 6'8" and weighing in at 241 pounds, Williams has amazing body control, agility and hops for a power forward. He can score from anywhere on the floor, whether it's finishing at will around the rim or shooting lights-out from long-range on 60 percent.
In addition to above, Williams has solid ball handling skills on the perimeter for his size, something he is not afraid to use.
Okwandu (7'0", 255 pounds) and Oriakhi (6'9", 240 pounds) will both need to stick with their bread and butter of tough, physical defense against Williams to have any hope of altering his strong inside game.
However, Oriakhi (9.8 PTS and 8.3 REBS) does have the potential to be a game changer inside on offense, Williams will have to be on his A-game on both ends of the court—which shouldn't be an issue for the future NBA lottery pick.
Derrick Williams should and likely will dominate this matchup inside, especially after leading the charge against two strong teams in Texas and Duke.
Arizona's Back Court vs UConn's Kemba Walker
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Kemba Walker is your do-it-all point guard. Listed at 6'1", he can do a variety of things with a basketball—in the last seven games Walker has averaged 27.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assist.
Walker's biggest challenge against the Wildcats will come against a long time friend and former high school teammate, sophomore Lamont "MoMo" Jones. Similarly, they both play aggressive, utilizing their quickness and ball handling skills on the perimeter to create their own shot or get to the basket.
It's a fact though that Walker's skills surpass Jones' by a long margin.
Jones (9.6 PTS and 2.5 AST) will need to be swift on his feet with little room for error against Walker.
If need be, Arizona could possibly throw some length at Walker with, (Jr.) guard, Kyle Fogg or (Jr.) small forward, Jesse Perry.
But, Kemba Walker will still be Kemba Walker.
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Kemba Walker is the center-stone of the Huskies on offense, directing a lineup consisting of four freshman and two sophomores into the future star's role.
A Big East All-Rookie Team selection, Jeremy Lamb is an up-and-coming star after scoring 54 points in his first three NCAA tournament games thus far and will be an x-factor on offense.
When the Huskies aren't hitting their shots, ultimately it takes away any hope of an inside game when neither big man Alex Oriakhi or Charles Okwandu average over 10 points a game.
Arizona runs a classic Princeton motion-based offense, relying on screens, slashing and sharing the rock. In doing so, their philosophy is get the ball inside or outside to Derrick Williams who scored a game-high 32 points in win over Duke, shooting 5-of-6 from deep-range.
Sophomore point guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones will be the Wildcats own x-factor as he scored 18 vs Memphis, zero against Texas and gutted out 16 against Duke.
The Wildcats have eight players who can score from anywhere on the floor, converting 54 percent on 34-of-63 shooting from the field against Duke is full proof of that.
Kemba Walker will ultimately try to lead the young pack of Huskies like he has done all season now. UConn will have to hit their shots to open up the paint and spread the floor against an athletic 'Zona team.
Arizona needs to be consistent again from the perimeter to create more opportunities for superstar Derek Williams inside.
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The Huskies like to use their length and athleticism on defense, thanks to four starters who are 6'5" or taller.
Playing a strict man-to-man defense that emphasizes team work, UConn ranked 12 in the country in blocks per game (5.63) this past season.
Sean Miller and the Wildcats run a seasoned physical man-to-man defense, rarely switching on screens.
However, Arizona can have problems with quick guards who can penetrate the lane effectively and seem to lack a team effort with rebounding, ranking 193 in rebounds per game, with 34.6.
UConn's post defense will play a major factor, ranking 11th in the country in rebounds per game (39.6), the Huskies have will have to win the boards to control this game.
Arizona will have to contain Kemba Walker from penetrating and getting around the rim where he is lethal as a scoring threat or finding the open man for an easy bucket.
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Connecticut is playing its ninth game in 19 days tonight, and the Huskies haven't seemed to slow down an ounce with a victory over San Diego State.
Arizona just scored 55 points in a half against Duke, showing no signs of fatigue yet either.
Neither team has a vast amount of experience in these type of games. Led by stars Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams, we should expect a physical, fast-paced game between the two teams.
The key to this matchup in the end will be fast break points and who wins the battle on the boards.
In the end the Kemba Walker and the Huskies will advance to their fourth Final Four appearance under Jim Calhoun.
Score: UConn 75, Arizona 72