Arizona seeks Final Four berth, not revenge vs. Wisconsin

LOS ANGELES — It’s the ghost of NCAA Tournaments past. Yes, it haunts Arizona and has for 364 days and a handful of hours.

"It still does, it still does," Arizona sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said of last season’s overtime loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. "I won’t be satisfied until we get past that point."

The point of no return is upon the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon, when Arizona finally faces Wisconsin here at the Staples Center.

"We watched them go to a Final Four and lose at the buzzer to Kentucky," Arizona senior guard T.J. McConnell said. "We thought that should have been us. But that’s driven all of us to work as hard as we did in the summer and as hard as we did this season to be as good as we are. We have great respect for Wisconsin, but we’re going to come out ready and play Arizona basketball."

With the berth in the Final Four on the line, the roles are reversed from a year ago, when Arizona was the No. 1 team in the West Region and Wisconsin was No. 2. Like Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona coach Sean Miller said his team has had all year to think about the Badgers.

And, yes, that includes thought of the charge that resulted in Arizona losing possession in the final stages.

"Is it a block? Is it a charge?" Miller said Friday. "I think about that every 10 minutes, 20 minutes. But you can’t control that."

Instead, Miller said what can be controlled is how tough and how hard Arizona plays.

"We will leave it all on the court," Hollis-Jefferson said.

Elite Eight: Arizona vs. Wisconsin

Each team will in what is expected to be an epic battle between two similar teams that have gotten here — again in southern California, no less — on parallel paths. Arizona is 34-3, as is Wisconsin. Arizona won the Pac-12 regular season title; Wisconsin won the Big Ten title. Arizona won the Pac-12 postseason championship; Wisconsin won the Big Ten tournament. Arizona outscores opponents by 17.6 points per game. Wisconsin outscores teams by 15.3.

The styles, however, are different. Arizona, which likes to score in the 70-80s, will try to get past a team that plays methodically, deliberately and like a team. Nothing has changed from a season ago, except for a couple of players on each side.

"They have an overall great basketball team," Arizona’s Gabe York said. "That’s why they are in the Elite Eight. We are not taking anything for granted. They’re a good basketball team and together they thrive and have the same record as us. As a team we have to be ready to go."

To a man, Arizona players have said they "are not making it any bigger than it is" and it has nothing to do with revenge.

Wisconsin is the team in the way of Arizona getting to the Final Four — albeit again. No more, no less.

"It was a hard fought game and it could have gone to either team," Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker said of last year. "It’s going to be the same type of battle, the same type of grit that’s going to be needed. Obviously, they want to make a Final Four and so do we."

Arizona knows what to expect as does Wisconsin. The Wildcats will attempt to speed up the pace; Wisconsin will try to slow it down. Last year, it favored the Badgers in that it was played in the 50s in regulation and 60s when it ended.

"Their deliberate pace, their ball movement, how they play their own version of man-to-man defense … It’s a style that is somewhat unique," Miller said. "I think the more familiarity that you have with it has to be to your advantage.

"We know how good Frank Kaminsky is (he scored 28 points last season). We know how disciplined their team is. We know that they don’t beat themselves."

He knows this because every day for the last few hundred days, he and his team have thought about recreating the moment – and creating a different outcome.

"Last year’s game could have gone either way," Miller said. "I think they know that."

They do, but it’s not Wisconsin that lives with the haunt of the game.

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