West Region: Stakes high again for Badgers, 'Cats
Los Angeles — Arizona guard Gabe York remembers having the ball in his hands, taking a couple of dribbles and failing to get a shot off before time expired.
Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63, in overtime.
The Badgers advanced to the Final Four for the first time under coach Bo Ryan a year ago, and the Wildcats went back to the desert, unable to deliver the same initial appearance for coach Sean Miller.
"They made one more play in overtime than we did," York said Friday. "That was a crazy, crazy scenario. There were only 2 seconds left and it took them about 15 minutes for those 2 seconds to end."
Now, they're going to do it again.
This time, the Badgers (34-3) have moved up from the No. 2 seed to No. 1, led by 7-footer Frank Kaminsky. The Wildcats (34-3) are No. 2, a spot lower than last year, and Pac 12 player of the year Nick Johnson, who launched a desperate shot just after the buzzer, graduated.
The stakes are the same: a trip to Indianapolis awaits the winner of tonight's West Regional championship game at Staples Center.
"Obviously, it's icing on the cake that we get to play Wisconsin in the Elite Eight and have a chance to go to the Final Four," York said. "We're extra amped."
Ditto the Badgers, who include title-hungry seniors Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan.
"We know they've added some pieces, but at the same time we're better than we were this time last year," Kaminsky said. "They're long, they're athletic and they're animals. They're not afraid of anything and they have the ability to get to the lane and go right up through you."
"Frank the Tank" proved the only reliable scorer a year ago, when the rest of the Badgers disappeared. Sam Dekker was 2-for-5, Ben Brust went 2-for-7, Jackson was 4-for-14 and Nigel Hayes was 2-for-8.
All but Brust are back, although Jackson missed 18 games because of injury before playing sparingly in Wisconsin's semifinal victory over North Carolina on Thursday.
"I expect to play more and am ready to play more," said Jackson, who scored four points against the Tar Heels.
Kaleb Tarczewski scored 12 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 10 for the Wildcats last year in the relentlessly physical game. In overtime, Arizona had an answer for just about everything Wisconsin did.
New to this year's game are starters Stanley Johnson, a freshman and projected lottery pick averaging 14 points and 1.5 steals, and junior Brandon Ashley, who sat out last year's tourney after having foot surgery.
"Brandon is probably the one most ready to play," York said. "He knows we left some money on the table."
With 3 seconds left in overtime, T.J. McConnell's jumper missed, but Arizona got the offensive rebound and found Johnson, who missed and got called for the push-off on Gasser.
"Is it a block? Is it a charge?" Miller said. "I think about that every 10 minutes, 20 minutes."
The Badgers' deliberate offense eats up time and forces opponents to play defense longer than most teams.
"It's easy to break down," Miller said. "Sometimes you break down at the very end with a foul. Sometimes you break down off the ball and they make a cut and it does you in, a second shot, which I thought last night really hurt North Carolina."
McConnell said the loss has driven him throughout his senior year. Gasser recalled it as one of the most stressful and nerve-wracking games he's played in.
"It was one of those games where one bounce of the ball could've changed our whole season," he said. "It was a crazy ending to a game and it's something I'll remember the rest of my life."