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Arizona basketball: Cats' gift: West seed

NCAA sends No. 6 UA (not UCLA) to Salt Lake with chance at LA, but 'monster' Belmont awaits

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Pac-12 basketball tournament: No. 21 UCLA 66, No. 18 Arizona 64: Bruins school Cats 3rd time

Mark Lyons, left, huddles with (from left) Kaleb Tarczewski, Solomon Hill, Brandon Ashley and Nick Johnson as the Wildcats try to figure out a way to stop UCLA's second-half momentum. UA saw an 11-point lead disappear midway through the half.

UCLA wing Jordan Adams may have single-handledly shot Arizona out of the Pac-12 tournament, but the Wildcats might want to send him a nice little get-well note today.

Because Adams broke his foot on the last play of UCLA's 66-64 win over Arizona on Friday, the NCAA selection committee downgraded the Bruins in NCAA placement - and kept the Wildcats as the top team out of the Pac-12 - according to committee chair Mike Bobinski.

That resulted in Arizona being assigned a No. 6 NCAA tournament seed, with a first game against Belmont on Thursday at 4:20 p.m. in Salt Lake City and a placement in the West Region. That means the Cats could head to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the Sweet 16 if they can win two games in Utah.

"We're excited to be in Salt Lake City," UA coach Sean Miller said.

"If they were to send us to another location we would have gratefully gone … but we're thrilled to be a part of that community, and I think being able to play in front of as many of our fans as possible is something we're fortunate to have on our side."

Bobinski, the Xavier AD who hired Miller as the Musketeers' coach in 2004, said Arizona received geographical preference over UCLA because the committee viewed the Wildcats as the top team from the Pac-12.

UCLA, also a No. 6 seed (South), beat Arizona three times, and Bobinski said the committee considered putting the Bruins above Arizona. But he said they downgraded the Bruins once it became clear that Adams was lost for the tournament. UCLA lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament championship on Saturday without Adams.

"That was a factor for us," Bobinski said. "That injury did give us pause and caused us not to move them up over Arizona."

Bobinski said overall that there was not much difference between teams seeded 3-7 this season, though he noted that Arizona did distinguish themselves.

"Early in the year, they had great wins over Florida and Miami, plus some pretty strong quality Pac-12 wins," Bobinski said. "Without a doubt, though, being swept three times by UCLA, struggling a bit, maybe not playing as sharply as the year went on probably affected them a little bit."

Three other Pac-12 teams earned NCAA tournament bids, though none were assigned to the West Region. Colorado earned a No. 10 seed in the East Region, opening in Austin, Texas, against Illinois, and Oregon was made a No. 12 and placed in the Midwest, opening with Oklahoma State.

California, meanwhile, was given a rare matchup against a team it already faced this season, UNLV, as a No. 12 in the East Region - but will get to play the Rebels at nearby San Jose, Calif.

So in the end, the way former UA star and NCAA tournament analyst Steve Kerr looked at it, the Wildcats have nothing to complain about. Even if they were projected to receive a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.

"The seed doesn't matter," Kerr said on a conference call. "If you're Arizona, you're thrilled to be in Salt Lake City, and if you win a couple of games, you move to L.A. I know Belmont's a good team but … if you can just get past that first one, you can get a little more momentum."

That may not be easy.

Belmont (26-6), which won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in its first year in that league this season, averages 77.2 points a game and won at Stanford 70-62 in November.

The Bruins take 39 percent of their shots from behind the three-point line and hit them at a 38.6 percent rate.

Miller's Xavier team beat Belmont 90-49 during the 2007-08 season, but Miller expressed respect for the Bruins and their veteran coach, Rick Byrd.

"When I faced them before, they value shooting, and they can shoot it from their frontcourt players," Miller said. "They put you in those compromising positions, and it's really what I've said since October - it's so important to defend the three-point shot.

"It's a monster we're dealing with here in the opening round that is that very thing. That doesn't mean we can't do it, but playing Belmont … we have to do a good job in that area, as does every team who plays them."

If UA gets past Belmont, No. 3 New Mexico could await. Then again, as a No. 6 seed, no games are expected to be easy, but Miller isn't complaining.

"I think one thing the seed reflects is the quality of the season we've had," Miller said. "We're viewed as one of the top 24, 25 teams in the country. And, if you consider overall how we performed, that'd probably be pretty accurate."

Even though the Wildcats lost three of their final five games, probably bumping them down from a 4 or 5 seed, Miller said he believed his players have found more confidence lately. Two of the three losses were to Pac-12 champ UCLA, and only by a combined seven points.

"We're playing at a high level right now," Miller said. "We played our last four games against quality opponents, and three away from McKale. We have some individual players at their best, and our team has a good mindset right now. I believe we're approaching Thursday in a good frame of mind."

mixed bag in Salt Lake

It's been a decade since Arizona has had a memorable NCAA tournament game in Salt Lake City, so the Wildcats are due for one.

In 1993, 15th-seeded Santa Clara and Steve Nash upset No. 2 Arizona 64-61 in the first round at Salt Lake City and in 2003, No. 1 UA beat No. 9 Gonzaga 96-95 in double overtime in the second round.

However, while those games were played at the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus, this week's games will be played in downtown Salt Lake City at Energy Solutions Arena, where the NBA's Utah Jazz plays.

The last time Arizona played at Energy Solutions Arena, the Elite Eight-bound Wildcats of 2010-11 suffered their worst loss of the nonconference season against BYU and Jimmer Fredette, 87-65 on Dec. 11, 2010.

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Meet the Wildcat's upcoming NCAA opponent, the Belmont Bruins, who are fresh off their win from the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

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