While Arizona guard Nick Johnson was held scoreless for almost the entire game, it took him less than three minutes to retake control against SDSU. The Pac-12 player of the year scored 15 of the Wildcats last 16 points in the game’s final two minutes and 46 seconds. If your not a math mathematician, thats around six points a minute and 240 points in 40 minutes (the length of a full game). Fortunately for SDSU, Johnson didn’t play with this efficiency for more than three minutes. Unfortunately for SDSU, it was the most important few minutes in their tournament, as they ultimately fell short against the Wildcats 70-64.
The Wildcats overcame a lot of adversity in order to qualify for the Elite 8. On top of Johnson’s 36 scoreless minutes, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis Jefferson were all in foul trouble at some point of the game. Between Jefferson fouling out with 6:59 left and Tarczewski missing half of the game after recording his fourth foul with nearly 19 minutes left, Arizona was left undersized and short-staffed while SDSU continued to pressure the Cats on both sides of the floor. Arizona stuck with the Aztecs until it was safe enough for Tarczewski to reenter the game. From then on, it all started to come together for the Wildcats as their primary scorer Johnson finally rediscovered his touch from the field. After sinking ten straight free throws, Johnson had yet again come in clutch for Arizona.
While Arizona’s late game surge helped them overtake San Diego State, the Aztecs out-rebounded, out-scored, out-defended and pushed the game’s tempo for a majority of the contest. If the Wildcats plan on surpassing Wisconsin this Saturday night, they will have to trash this past game from their memory bank and go out with the same sense of urgency they had at the end of the SDSU game.
Keys to the game vs. Wisconsin: The Badgers post a variety of troublesome match-ups for the Wildcats. It will be vital for Arizona to close out the shooter on defense and push the tempo on offense.
Frank Kaminsky: It will be interesting to see how Arizona will play against this versatile seven-footer. Kaminsky will undoubtedly put pressure on Tarczewski to defend from both behind the arc and on drives from the triple-threat position. Kaminsky is the Badger’s most efficient starting scorer, shooting nearly 53% this season and deserves a lot of attention from every defender on the floor. Help-defense will be key to stopping Kaminsky in the paint.
3-point shooting and jumpers: Wisconsin has scored 81 points on shots from behind the arc in the past three tournament games. Thats roughly 35.4% of their total points scored. As we saw against SDSU, the Wildcats gave up a lot of low percentage shots to Xavier Thames. While you can only play such good D on a hot shooter, its going to be important for Arizona’s defense to get a hand in the face of every long range shooter. Shooting teams like Wisconsin can often be very hot and cold; thats why Arizona must defend smart and physically to slow the Badgers from catching fire.
Nick Johnson: I have mentioned this again and again, Arizona’s success depends on Johnson’s output. As seen versus SDSU, the Wildcats were able keep in close quarters without Johnson scoring, but it wasn’t until Johnson started to score did Arizona begin to run away with the game. The Junior guard has averaged 9.7 points in three of Arizona’s four losses this season. Zona will need Johnson to play hard on both ends of the court, scoring his average of around 17 points. Johnson is the Wildcats’ only scoring specialist and the leader of this team. He will have to lead by example for the entire game against the Badgers, and not just the final minutes.
Place your bets: Arizona 72- Wisconsin 64
While the Badgers post a variety of obstacles for Arizona, I see the Wildcats shaking off the Sweet Sixteen jitters to overcome a tough game versus Wisconsin.
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