ANAHEIM, Calif. — Arizona didn’t play like a No. 1 seed.
Not even close.
And when Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson waits until less than three minutes remaining to score his first points of the game, normally, that would spell doom for any team.
But not for the Wildcats.
Despite trailing for a good portion of Thursday night’s action against No. 4 seed San Diego State, Arizona bent but didn’t break and eliminated the Aztecs 70-64 to advance to the Elite Eight vs. No. 2 seed Wisconsin.
"We’ve played 37 games now … that was the most physical, hard fought game for us," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "It took tremendous toughness and resolve (for us to win)."
Johnson, who averages over 16 points per game on the year, finished with 15 points, including 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Arizona is now 8-2 while trailing at the half.
The Wildcats (33-4) seemed to turn a corner thanks to the night’s best play when freshman forward Aaron Gordon turned an alley oop from sophomore guard Gabe York, an Orange Lutheran grad, into a one-handed slam with 14:23 left in the game.
"It was a good pass from Gabe," Gordon said with a smile. "All I had to do was slam it down."
Frank the tank
For all its style and flash, Baylor had no answer for Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky and the disciplined style of play of the second-seeded Badgers.
Kaminsky, a 7-footer, scored a game-high 19 points (on 8-of-11 shooting) and routinely been the Baylor defenders down the floor en route to a 69-52 victory.
"It comes from practice, you know, keeping your composure. Not turning the ball over and making the right play is something we always try to do," said Kaminsky, a first-team All-Big Ten selection. "If you look at our team’s track record, we’re always a team that doesn’t really turn the ball over much. So just practicing that throughout the entire season has really prepared us for now."
"He’s just a great player. Offensively, he has a good skill set, a 7-footer who can shoot it," added Baylor forward Cory Jefferson (15 points, seven rebounds). "On the defensive end, he affected shots."
Playing to their strengths, the Badgers (29-7) wore down the No. 6 seeded Bears (26-12) with the great rotation and passing. Despite beating No. 3 seed Creighton by 30 in the third round, Baylor seemed sluggish and out of rhythm for most of the game.
"We prepared. We went through scouting reports; we watched film on them … and we just didn’t complete it," said Bears guard Kenny Chery.
"We got away from the zone, tried to go man, tried to pressure them. They’re extremely hard to pressure and rattle," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Ben Brust added 14 points (on 3-of-5 from behind the arc) and six rebounds.
The Badgers will play the Arizona on Saturday for a chance to advance to coach Bo Ryan’s first Final Four.
"Yeah, that would be a very special thing to do, but we also know that he’s not going to let us look too far ahead. I’d definitely like to do that for him," Brust said.
Home away from home
Wisconsin fans certainly love to follow their Badgers to Southern California during the winter months.
From 2011-13, the Wisconsin football team went to (and lost) three straight Rose Bowls.
And on Thursday, despite 1,967-mile distance from campus to the Honda Center, the Badgers’ fans and band dominated the in-game atmosphere as if it were the Kohl Center.
For Baylor (1,425 miles from Anaheim), only a few scattered fans could be seen in their neon green garb.