Top-seeded Wisconsin will face second-seeded Arizona at Staples Center today with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
This is the second consecutive year the two teams have met in the finals of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament West Regional. Wisconsin was a 64-63 winner in overtime last year at Anaheim’s Honda Center, in a game Arizona had three chances in the final 11 seconds to re-take the lead.
“We missed a lot of opportunities to rebound defensively,” Wisconsin sophomore forward Nigel Hayes said.
“We allowed them to get a lot of putbacks, which kept them in the game when we tried to get a lead or pull away so we have to be very conscientious of that in this game to make sure we limit their offensive rebounds.”
The Badgers may well face another challenge in rebounding. The Wildcats are second among Division I teams in rebound margin at plus-9 and first in defensive rebound percentage, 77.5 percent.
This is the ninth time teams have met in back-to-back in the Elite 8. Each of the previous seven series have been swept by one team.
Wisconsin is seeking its fourth Final Four berth, Arizona its fifth and first since 2001.
The Badgers have the nation’s most efficient offense, according to rankings complied by analyst Ken Pomeroy, averaging 125.8 points per 100 possessions. Arizona is seventh in offensive efficiency, averaging 116.9 points per 100 possessions.
Wisconsin also leads the nation in fewest turnovers (7.4) and fouls (12.2) per game and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.73).
The Wildcats lead Division I teams in free throws (944) and are second in free throws made (672) and third in scoring margin (17.6 points per game).
Both teams are 34-3 and needed second-half comebacks Thursday to reach the Elite Eight.
The Badgers defeated fourth-seeded North Carolina, 79-72, overcoming a seven-point deficit with 10 minutes, 30 seconds to play. It was the fourth time in Wisconsin’s six NCAA or Big Ten Conference tournament games it had trailed in the second half, rallying to win all four.
The Badgers trailed in five games in the second half before the start of the Big Ten Conference tournament.
Arizona defeated sixth-seeded Xavier, 68-60, outscoring the Musketeers 19-7 to close the game and holding Xavier scoreless over the final 3:47.
The Wildcats have six players who played on the high school level in Los Angeles or Orange counties, including 6-foot-7-inch freshman forward Stanley Johnson, an alumnus of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, who is averaging a team-high 14 points per game.
“When you’re 18 years old, you want to play in front of a crowd, fever pitch, 14,500, and we have that 17 times a year, regardless of who we play,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
The Wildcats averaged 14,591 fans per home game, compared to 7,711 for UCLA and 3,552 for USC.