So this is it.
Win this game, and you go down in your school’s history as one of the better teams it has ever assembled. Lose it and you are just another good team.
Arizona will battle Wisconsin in an Elite 8 matchup, with the winner going to the Final Four. The Wildcats have been to four Final Fours, but none since 2001. The Badgers have previously been to two, the last of which came in 2000.
The teams have met in the Tournament before, with Wisconsin winning in 2000 and Arizona coming out on top in 2006, but neither of the matchups had this much on the line.
For the players, it’s about legacy; for the coaches — Arizona’s Sean Miller and Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan — it’s a chance to shed the label of “one of the best coaches to never reach a Final Four.”
Let’s break the game down:
• Dec. 14 – Arizona 72, Michigan 70
The Arizona Wildcats had been the No. 1 team in the nation for just a few days when they went into Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines.
The Wildcats trailed for much of the game, falling behind by as many as 11 points early in the second half. But Arizona fought back to make it a game, finally taking a 63-62 lead with just 2:32 left. The teams traded baskets from there, with the lead changing hands, too. It wasn’t until Nick Johnson made a free throw with seven seconds remaining that the Wildcats were completely out of danger, and Gabe York’s missed free throw with two seconds left gave Michigan one more chance at a desperation heave, but it missed and Arizona won the game.
In that game, Brandon Ashley led Arizona with 18 points, while Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon all tallied 14. The Wolverines shot 50 percent against a usually-stout Arizona defense, but the ‘Cats outrebounded their opponents by a 37-24 margin, including 17-6 on the offensive glass.
• Jan. 18 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70
The third-ranked Badgers struggled to shoot as well as defend, which was a bad mixture against a very capable Wolverines squad.
Wisconsin shot just 43.3 percent from the field in the game, and while four players reached double figures in scoring (Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky, Ben Brust, Sam Dekker), it wasn’t enough as Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined for 43 Michigan points in the win.
The Badgers were outrebounded by one in the loss.
• Feb. 16 – Wisconsin 75, Michigan 62
Now this was more like it for the Badgers.
No. 21 Wisconsin went on the road and had their way with No. 15 Michigan, carrying a 34-19 lead into halftime and cruising the rest of the way.
Frank Kaminsky led the way with 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting, adding 11 rebounds, one steal and one block to his stat line. Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser added 15 and 13, respectively, as the Badgers shot a healthy 44.8 percent from the field while making 7-of-17 three-point attempts.
On the flip side, they held Michigan to 40 percent shooting, and even outrebounded the Wolverines by a 34-30 margin. Oh, and Wisconsin had just two turnovers in the game.
• Feb. 6 – Arizona 67, Oregon 65
In their first full game without forward Brandon Ashley and first game since their first loss of the season, the Wildcats got through an uneven night and poor shooting effort to escape with a win.
It was a struggle most of the evening for Arizona, who trailed deep into the second half, but T.J. McConnell’s three-pointer with 1:33 gave the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.
Nick Johnson led Arizona with 18 points, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson adding 14 and Kaleb Tarczewski 12. The Wildcats were outrebounded in the contest and also shot a lesser percentage from the floor.
• March 8 – Oregon 64, Arizona 57
Arizona’s five-game win streak was no match for a rolling Oregon squad, though for much of the game it appeared the Wildcats would finish their regular season with a good road win.
In fact, the Wildcats took a 4-2 lead 1:44 into the game and held it until there was 5:08 remaining. However, the Ducks took the lead with 4:22 left and the Wildcats offense went cold, allowing the home team to earn a much-needed win over the third-ranked ‘Cats.
Arizona shot just 42.3 percent from the field and made only 2-of-11 three-point attempts. Aaron Gordon led the way with 21 points, but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to beat a Ducks team that made 10-of-19 threes that afternoon.
• March 22 – Wisconsin 85, Oregon 77
If Wisconsin goes on to the Final Four, this game will be remembered as the catalyst.
The Badgers trailed for much of the first 20 minutes, as Oregon took a 49-37 lead into the half.
But the second half was a different story for Wisconsin, who battled back and took the lead just 7:31 into the frame. The teams went back and forth from there until Ben Brust hit a three with 1:09 left, giving the Badgers a lead they would not surrender.
Frank Kaminsky’s 19 points led a balanced effort that saw five Badgers score in double figures. Wisconsin outrebounded the Ducks 36-26, and held a 14-3 edge on the offensive glass.
The teams combined to make 19-of-46 three-point attempts.