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Dwayne Polee II’s play will be key for San Diego State on Thursday

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Of the eight Sweet 16 match-ups being played Thursday and Friday night, two are rematches of regular season games. Of course there’s No. 4 Louisville and No. 8 Kentucky, with those two teams playing every season, but there’s also No. 1 Arizona taking on No. 4 San Diego State in Anaheim. The Wildcats won the first meeting back on November 14, 69-60, with the game being a closer contest than the final margin would indicate.

How much can be taken from a game played that early in the season and applied to an NCAA tournament rematch is up for debate, with both teams being different (and better) outfits than they were in November. Arizona won’t have Brandon Ashley, who accounted for six points and six rebounds in the first meeting, but they’ve certainly adjusted to that personnel loss in recent weeks.

MORE: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State preview

 

Freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been one of the best sixth men in the country, and the starting lineup led by national Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson, point guard T.J. McConnell and forward Aaron Gordon has continued to play well. As for the Aztecs there’s one major personnel difference that has received some much-deserved attention in the days leading up to this game.

That difference: the emergence of Dwayne Polee II as a capable scoring option off the bench.

How far has Polee come this season? The St. John’s transfer didn’t even leave the bench for the first meeting between these two teams. But instead of getting frustrated the St. John’s transfer remained positive and continued to work, earning the opportunity to join the rotation and the work has paid off in recent weeks.

“He never, ever did anything other than cheer for his teammates, and smile when he was in the locker room, the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when you’re that ballyhooed,” Fisher said during the team’s press conference Wednesday. “He was sensational. Then when he started to get significant minutes, he played well, and obviously he’s been crucial to the recent success of this team. He’s been terrific.”

Averaging 8.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game this season, Polee’s contributed 14.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in San Diego State’s last five games with the Aztecs going 4-1 during this stretch. And in four of those games Polee’s played at least 27 minutes per game. Always a very good athlete with a high motor, Polee also looks more confident as a perimeter shooter and has shot 10-for-19 from beyond the arc.

Beating Arizona will be a tough task for San Diego State; there are a number of good reasons why the Wildcats received a one-seed and stand as one of the favorites to win the national title. But that doesn’t mean the goal’s an impossible one for the Aztecs. And if Polee can continue his solid play of late, thus supplementing the production of Xavier Thames, San Diego State is capable of advancing.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org