Anaheim, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The West Regional has played out just as planned, with top-seeded Arizona taking on second-seeded Wisconsin for the right to move on to the Final Four.
Arizona, which is now 51-27 officially in this event over the years and won it all in 1997 under Lute Olson, made it through the second and third rounds of the 76th NCAA Tournament with victories over Weber State (68-59) and Gonzaga (70-64) before going up against San Diego State in the round of 16 on Thursday night.
The teams had met earlier this season, with the Wildcats pulling off a 69-60 win on the road, but this time around the Aztecs had a considerable fan base making the trip to Anaheim to support SDSU and while early on the local favorites appeared to be well on their way to advancing, Arizona came storming back in the second half to secure the 70-64 victory.
Meanwhile the Badgers, winners of this tourney back in 1941 with a 39-34 decision against Washington State in Kansas City, Missouri, now have a mark of 28-18 in the event all-time. The second-round matchup with American was anything but a challenge, as Wisconsin breezed to a 75-35 win, but in the third round Oregon refused to go away quietly before suffering the 85-77 setback. Two nights ago, a powerful Baylor squad was brought to its knees as Wisconsin served up a 69-52 victory in order to advance to the Elite Eight yet again.
In terms of an all-time series between these two programs, the Badgers cling to a 3-2 advantage thanks to three wins in four chances on a neutral floor. However, when it comes to competing against each other in the NCAA Tournament, the squads have split a pair of meetings. Back in 2000, they clashed in Salt Lake City during the postseason, with Wisconsin capturing a 66-59 win, while six years later it was Arizona with a massive 94-65 decision on St. Patrick's Day in Philadelphia.
The survivor in this regional final is headed to the Lone Star State next weekend where it will contend with the team representing the Midwest Regional (Kentucky/Michigan) next Saturday.
It was a lows-scoring first half on both sides when Wisconsin hit the floor against the Bears Thursday, but Baylor looked particularly awful as it shot a mere 5-of-25 from the floor and 1-of-6 behind the 3-point line through the first 20 minutes of action. It was one of the worst performances before intermission this season for the Bears and while they did improve in the second half, to 40.6 percent from the field, they were just 1-of-9 out on the perimeter.
Frank Kaminsky played a major role at both ends of the floor as he not only tallied a game-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, but he also recorded all six of his team's blocked shots as well. Ben Brust checked in with 14 points and Nigel Hayes tallied 10 to go with six boards in only 18 minutes off the bench for a group that shot a disappointing 11-of-20 at the free-throw line.
Kaminsky is far from a glamorous, household name, but for the Badgers he has become an essential piece of the puzzle in the paint, from scoring 13.7 ppg and clearing 6.2 rpg, to posting 64 blocked shots, just over half the team's total (124). Brust (13.0 ppg), Sam Dekker (12.5 ppg), Traevon Jackson (10.7 ppg) and Josh Gasser (9.1 ppg), all of whom have started every game this season, have put forth a strong effort at the defensive end as well where opponents have been limited to just 63.8 ppg.
The 2013-14 Pac-12 Player of the Year was invisible for the first 37 minutes of the game against San Diego State, missing his first 10 field goal attempts, although he did have a mid-court prayer answered at the end of the first half that was waved off because it was released after the buzzer. However, in the final 2:45 Nick Johnson came alive with all 15 of his points in the win against the Aztecs, converting all 10 of his free throws and finishing with eight rebounds.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon both tallied 15 points as well for the Wildcats, followed by T.J. McConnell who dropped in 11 points as the team held SDSU to just 38.9 percent shooting from the field and 4-of-14 behind the 3-point line.
Despite the rough start on Thursday, Johnson still closed in on his season scoring average of 16.3 ppg and doubled his efforts on the glass, which now stands at 4.1 rpg. Gordon (12.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Kaleb Tarczewski (9.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) are still doing all they can to fill the void left by Brandon Ashley (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) who has been watching from the sidelines after having surgery performed on his right foot last month. San Diego State was one of the top defensive teams in the nation, but of the remaining squads left in the tournament that title belongs to Florida (57.8 ppg), although Arizona (58.4 ppg) isn't far off the pace.