ANAHEIM, Calif. – About 30 miles away at the Staples Center, the Arizona Wildcats lost a chance at the Elite Eight on a late three from Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross a year ago.
This time, they made it. UA will face Wisconsin at 5:49 p.m. Saturday for the chance to make their first Final Four in 13 years.
“It’s a great feeling,” guard Gabe York said. “Last year we felt we left some money on the table. It was a last second shot Ohio State hit.”
There’s not a real pattern for Nick Johnson's next game after a tough game from the field. After his 1-for-14 game at California, he continued slumping from three-point range, missing all five he took against Oregon at McKale Center and the two he took against Oregon State.
But Johnson bounced back from a 3-for-13 effort against Stanford in the Wildcats’ home finale with an 8-for-18 night at Oregon State and hit 3 of 6 threes against the Beavers.
Johnson was just 4 of 12 at Oregon on the final day of the regular season but then shot 47 percent over three Pac-12 Tournament games.
Several Wildcats said after Thursday’s game they knew Johnson would break out after an 0-for-10 start from the field.
“He’s the captain on our team and we knew he was going to turn it around at some point,” York said. “We wanted to give him the ball in those clutch situations and he ended up hitting 10 free throws.
“We all have the utmost confidence in him and we knew he was going to turn it around.”
Not surprisingly, the Wildcats had no trouble when Johnson called for the ball.
"As you could see, every great player does it,” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said.
“Whether it's Kobe or Jordan, they come to the ball when it's crunch time, no matter what happened the first 35 minutes. They knew it was their team and they knew their guys needed them and they made plays. It's the same way with Nick. He knows he had to be our leader and make plays and that's what he did."
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is from the same hometown of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan -- Chester, Pa.
No, “he’s from my city,” Hollis-Jefferson said, smiling.
Hollis-Jefferson said he knows Ryan well but never did consider playing for the Badgers.
“I guess he just knew I was a tropical guy,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
After San Diego State missed two shots on its final possession, and Johnson grabbed the rebound and was fouled, UA coach Sean Miller began congratulating his players.
The Wildcats were up by four and, besides, Johnson was unbeatable at the line in clutch moments all season (sure enough he hit both to finish 10 for 10 from the line).
The game was over, and Miller knew it.
"When you're together since June and working toward the goal of reaching the Final Four and winning a national championship, things get emotional,” UA assistant coach Book Richardson said. “Everybody is playing for the same thing right now and we're one step closer. That's a big deal and it was a big moment right there."
No UA players are left from the last time the Wildcats and Badgers met, during the 2009-10 Maui Invitational. But Wisconsin's 65-61 win at Maui during what was UA coach Sean Miller's first season was significant to the Wildcats for this reason: A freshman who didn't start in the opener that season, Derrick Williams, broke the UA free-throw attempt record by going to the line 21 times and letting everyone know he was pretty skilled around the basket.
The full transcripts of podium interviews from Arizona and SDSU were not posted yet as of midnight but here's the official box score.