November 27, 2015

One or two plays could have easily kept Arizona from a semifinal everybody expected it to reach in a walk, but the 11th-ranked Wildcats avoided a dose of deja vu and will continue their bid for an early-season championship.

Arizona has a quick turnaround after a close call in the DirecTV Wooden Legacy when it meets Providence in Friday night's semis on the campus of Cal State-Fullerton.

The Wildcats (5-0) struggled against winless Santa Clara in Thursday's opening round, which may sound familiar since Steve Nash's Broncos were just the second No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 when they upset Arizona to open the 1993 NCAA Tournament.

Arizona avoided a similar shocker when Gabe York brushed off a 1-of-12 shooting effort in regulation with seven of his 11 points coming in overtime of a 75-73 win. The Wildcats narrowly avoided their first November loss since 2011.

"We got a heavy dose of a lot of lessons," said coach Sean Miller, whose team won its opening four home games by an average of 19.8 points.

The last time Arizona faced Providence was in the regional finals at the 1997 NCAAs, winning 96-92 in overtime to advance to one of the school's four Final Fours en route to its only national championship.

The stakes aren't nearly as high this time, but a win for the Wildcats could wash away the bad taste of a middling performance against Santa Clara.

They blew a 17-point first-half lead, committed a season-high 17 turnovers, made just 3 of 22 shots from 3-point range and hit 14 of 20 free throws. The Broncos shot 43.4 percent - a season high for an Arizona opponent - and went 10 of 26 from long range.

"We have such a long way to go on defense it's not even close," Miller said.

The Wildcats couldn't contain Santa Clara's Jared Brownridge, who torched them for a tournament-record 44 points, surpassing James Harden's 40 set with Arizona State in 2008.

"He put 44 on us and it wasn't like we weren't trying," Miller said. "It's not just 44, it's 44 out of 73. That's a lot of points in the college game, especially that ratio."

Arizona will draw another defensive test against Providence (5-0).

Kris Dunn is the Friars' main threat after he passed up on the NBA draft in June as a potential lottery pick. He was tabbed a preseason top 50 candidate for the Wooden Award for his ability to make a massive impact on both ends of the floor.

Dunn leads the Friars with 18.6 points per game, and he stacks the scorebook with 7.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 4.8 steals. He's followed in scoring by Rodney Bullock (16.0 points per game) and Ben Bentil (15.6), who poured in a career-high 24 in a 74-64 semifinal win over Evansville on Thursday.

More bad news from Arizona's tight win over Santa Clara was an aggravated injury to senior Kaleb Tarczewski. Miller said his 7-foot center has been bothered by injuries to both his ankles, and he reinjured one of them.

"I don't know the severity, but certainly that's not good," Miller said.

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