Arizona-Xavier: 5 things to watch

LOS ANGELES — Second-seed Arizona and sixth-seed Xavier have never played against one another.  On Thursday, they meet for a trip to the Elite Eight.

"Big stakes," as Xavier coach Chris Mack said this week.

A win would put Arizona (33-3) in back-to-back Elite Eights for the first time since the 1997-98 seasons. Yes, it’s been that long for a program that prides itself in deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. After all, this is Arizona’s 17th Sweet 16; it is Xavier’s seventh Sweet 16.

Arizona guard T.J. McConnell knows it won’t be easy facing Xavier (23-13), a team he’s 0-2 against in his career. He lost both games while at Duquesne before transferring to Arizona.

"(It) hasn’t been good," McConnell said. "I think the second time we played them we lost by about 45 points. I know what kind of team they are. They play really hard and they play with a chip on their shoulder. They’re going to come out ready and they’re going to play really hard. If we don’t come out ready, Xavier will beat us."

ARIZONA vs. XAVIER

When: 7:17 p.m. Thursday
Where: Staples Center, L.A.
TV: TBS

Here are five things to watch for as both teams try to reach Saturday’s Elite Eight:

It’s going to be quite the matchup for Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook and Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski, each team’s big man. Stainbrook, a 6-foot-10 center, leads the Musketeers in scoring at 12.1 points per game and averaged 2.4 assists per game. He leads the team in double-doubles with four and has 10 for his career.

"We compare him to (Gonzaga’s) Przemek Kornowski where they look similar," said Tarczewski. "Coach Miller gave us a stat where if Stainbrook was on our team he’d be second on the team in assists. That shows he’s not only a scoring threat on the block but he’s also a passer. It’s going to be a tough game."

Stainbrook is taking the game as big challenge.

"Whenever we play against big-name guys I always take it personal," Stainbrook said. "I’m looking forward to it."

He said he sometimes watched Arizona play on television.

"They’re always on late-night games on the Pac-12," he said. "I think highly of their players; they are talented."

Arizona has McConnell, a player worthy of Pac-12 player of the year honors and Xavier has Dee Davis, a 6-foot senior who has similar numbers to McConnell when it comes to assists.

Davis averages six assists per game. McConnell averaged 6.3 per game.

Sean Miller, Chris Mack meet in Sweet 16

Mack said McConnell is a player who "doesn’t beat himself" and "his pull-up game is tremendous" and does a good job of "keeping everybody happy."

The assist always is what helps.

The Wildcats are second in the nation with a plus-9.2 rebounding margin and first nationally in defensive rebounding. Xavier isn’t in the top 50. Xavier averages 34.8 rebounds per game. Arizona averages 37.6 but gives up just 27.3.

Overall, Arizona is 125-21 in Miller’s six years at Arizona when the Wildcats wins the rebounding battle.

"We’ve got to keep them off the offensive glass," Davis said. "I’m pretty sure they’ve got at least 50 percent of their misses back so far in the (NCAA) tournament, so a big part of our game plan is to keep them from getting second shots."

Against Ohio State last week, junior Gabe York had a career day with 19 points on 5 of 9 from beyond the 3-point line. To say, York is feeling it would be an understatement. But he is, playing some of his best basketball — ever.

Arizona might need that type of effort again in that Xavier plays a 1-3-1 zone. Arizona hasn’t been good against zones, save for last week.

"It’s going to be pretty much the same as Ohio State," York said. "I just have to knock down some shots. For me, the basket feels like the ocean. Every time I shoot the ball it feels like it’s going in. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. But I’m going to go out and do what I do."

Also expect York to get to the basket to try some "floaters and layups."

Arizona has won 13 consecutive games and 19 of 20. When Mack started to scout Arizona, he saw a team that was, well, a team without "weaknesses."

"Some may say that they’re not a very good 3-point shooting team," Mack said. "I do know that when you leave Gabe York open and you leave Stanley Johnson open, they make shots. T.J. McConnell has become a much better shooter. So, I don’t buy the argument they’re not a great shooting team. They may not be Villanova from the 3-point line, but they’re not a bad 3-point shooting team. There is just not a weakness that you see on film."

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