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No. 1 Arizona survives No. 4 San Diego State, advances to the Elite 8


It took 37 minutes and 14 seconds, but eventually No. 1 Arizona’s all-american shooting guard Nick Johnson scored.

It was a layup in transition, one that capped a 10-2 momentum-changing run to put the Wildcats up 56-51. After SDSU scored at the other end, Johnson buried his first three of the game and followed that up with eight straight free throws to help the Wildcats hold off the No. 4 seed Aztecs, 70-64, and advance to the Elite 8. He finished with 15 points, all coming in the final 2:46.

He had 15 of Arizona’s last 16 points and hit ten critical free throws during that stretch. That’s what veterans do. That’s what all-americans do. And that’s why Johnson is Arizona’s closer.

The Wildcats will face No. 2 Wisconsin on Saturday night in the Honda Center in Anaheim for the West Region title and the right to go to the Final Four.

And after this performance, the idea of Arizona being a national championship caliber team only gets reinforced.

That may sound weird after the performance we just witnessed, but hear me out.

San Diego State is a really good basketball team. On Thursday night, they played about as well as they can possibly play. They didn’t turn the ball over and allow Arizona to get out in transition. They pounded the Wildcats on the offensive glass, and even if it didn’t result in a ton of second chance points, it forced Sean Miller to send all five players to the defensive glass. That prevents leak outs. That prevents fast breaks.

And that, in turn, forced Arizona to play a possession by possession game, where their subpar half court offense had to try and score against SDSU’s set defense, which is as stout as any defense in the country.

That’s not all. In addition to the fact that Johnson missed his first ten shots from the floor, Kaleb Tarczewski, their starting center, picked up three fouls in the first half and drew his fourth with more than 18 minutes left in the game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who finished with 15 points off the bench, fouled out with just under five minutes left. Arizona is not a deep team at all, particularly in their front court.

Throw in the fact that Xavier Thames had it going in the second half, and this was a worst-case scenario for Sean Miller. This was the blueprint for what you needs to happen to beat Arizona.

And they survived.

If Arizona proved anything tonight, it’s that their defense is good enough to overcome their worst performance.

That’s a scary thought for Wisconsin.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)