SPORTS

Plenty on the line for Sean Miller and 'Cats in Sweet Sixteen

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks to Point Guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright during the Arizona-North Dakota game on Thursday, March 15.

SALT LAKE CITY—Head coach Sean Miller has seen this movie before; this time he hopes it comes with a different ending for Arizona men’s basketball.

In each of Arizona’s past three trips to the Sweet 16, the Wildcats have experienced a crushing fate. You wouldn’t wish the outcomes Arizona has experienced in each of the eliminating games on your worst enemy.

From Ohio State to a double helping of Wisconsin, the boys in red and blue have had their fair share of heartbreak. Perhaps this time around will finally be different. It sure is lining up to be.

The Wildcats will not have a foe that slows it down and methodically picks you apart like Wisconsin; they overcame that hurdle Saturday by defeating Saint Mary’s College, a team that ranks near the bottom in possessions per game, slowing it down past the point of paint drying.

Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona's Paulo Cruz (51) looks for a teammate to pass to during the Arizona-North Dakota game on Thursday, March 15.

The next obstacle is a familiar opposition, especially to Miller. The Wildcats will be taking on Xavier in yet another Sweet 16 matchup between the two teams, the last coming in Los Angeles in 2015 resulting in a 68-60 win for Arizona. This time around, the game sizes up to be just as close and definitely just as important. 

The name of the game is to survive and advance, it doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you do it. If the Wildcats can navigate through the next two games, it will place Miller into the Final Four for the first time in his coaching career, shedding the moniker of best coach to never make the Final Four.

“I’m very excited. ... We’re just happy we’re in the Sweet 16, and now we just have to get ready for the next opponent: Xavier,” said freshman Lauri Markkanen.

Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona's Rawle Alkins tips in the ball during the Arizona-Saint Mary's game on Saturday, March 18.

In the coming days, the question will be asked of how important this is to Miller and the team, but this trip to San Jose feels like it has more on the line. It is arguably the more favorable route to a Final Four that anyone could’ve asked for, and is important to the legacy of not only Miller but the Arizona brand as a whole. 

“It is an amazing feeling,” said freshman Rawle Alkins. “With everything we have been through as a team, from us not having a full team of being healthy and having tragedies, I am honored to be a part of this team.”

It has been 16 years since the Wildcats have made it to college basketball’s ultimate stage. Usually programs that go that long between stints fade away, but Arizona has found itself in the national spotlight time and time again. This time they need to take advantage of it. Perhaps this is the team to get Miller over the hump, we shall see.


Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.



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