Xavier’s Run Continues, Heartbreak for Arizona

San Jose, Calif. – Both J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett were on the Xavier Basketball team who suffered a Sweet 16 loss to Arizona in 2015. Though the two were new on the team, both felt the sting of defeat when talking about the last meeting.

“I just remember it being a good battle throughout the whole game,” said Bluiett. “We were going back and forth. And we were competing for the longest — but I think the last couple of minutes of the game we kind of gassed out and they ended up getting the best of us.”

Both wanted to experience different emotions in 2017 in the Sweet 16 against Arizona.

Down eight points with about four and a half to play in the game, Coach Chris Mack told his players not to go all-out on the next two possessions. His players already knew the message and put the plan in motion.

Bluiett initiated the comeback with a three-point basket to pull the Musketeers within five. Kadeem Allen pushed the lead back to five for the Wildcats with under three minutes to play. Allen’s basket would be the last for Arizona as Xavier buckled down.

After Malcolm Bernard and Bluiett had tied the game at 71, Coach Mack drew up a play with 50 seconds left in the match. Unsure on how to attack, Coach Mack elected for a quick strike instead of winding the clock down.

“Fortunately, Sean was able to catch a great pass by Tre and put it in through all that traffic and gave the guys a boost of confidence,” said Coach Mack. “And then we had to defend.”

Sean O’Mara scored with 40 seconds left, sending the Xavier bench and crowd into a frenzy at SAP Center. But the excitement could not last as the Musketeers had to play defense to preserve the lead.

“We were planning on running one thing, kind of last second checked to another play, and it was the right read,” said O’Mara who finished with eight points off the bench. “I thank Coach Mack for giving me the opportunity.”

O’Mara hauled in a rebound off an Allen missed shot and was fouled, heading to the line. To the dismay of Xavier, O’Mara missed his free-throw attempt making the final seconds agonizing for players and fans.

Allonzo Trier had been quiet in the first half for Arizona scoring only four points. The second half became a different story as he scored 15 consecutive points for the Wildcats. With the clock running down, Trier went for the game-winner from behind the arc.

Trier’s shot did not fall.

Bernard caught the rebound and dribbled down the court to expire the clock. An ecstatic Xavier bench jumped in celebration as the team held off Arizona 73-71. The win advances the team to the Elite Eight against Gonzaga for a spot in the Final Four on the line.

“It was just elation, everybody’s going nuts,” said O’Mara. “We were throwing stuff and going crazy, that’s an incredible game to win. To earn a trip to the elite eight, I don’t think anybody feels better right now.”

The Musketeers finished the game on a 12-2 run and are 6-2 this season in games decided by four points or less. Bluiett scored 25 points, 18 of which came in the first half of Xavier’s 35 points. Macura had 14 points and seven rebounds while Bernard scored a career-high 15 points.

“It feels good, just, for one, just to be able to get that revenge that we have been looking for,” said Bluiett. “And, two, just to make it to the Elite Eight.”

Sean Miller previously coached at Xavier before coming to Arizona. Though distraught after a tough loss, Miller knew the contest would not be easy.

I knew going into the game it was going to be a challenge, and there were a number of breakdowns we had,” said Coach Miller. “He (Coach Mack) had his way with us tonight. He called plays, after timeouts, underneath out of bounds, he got his players some great shots.”

Arizona out-rebounded Xavier 35-27 in the game which kept the Wildcats in the contest. With an eight-point advantage, late, the Wildcats could not hold the lead and held off the scoresheet in the final 2:52.

“We could not guard them,” said Coach Miller. “If you just go through the numbers, it wasn’t the total points; it was the field goal percentage, 3-point percentage.”

Size and athleticism favored the Wildcats which concerned Coach Mack entering the matchup. Dusan Ristic had his way against Xavier finishing with 17 points. Lauri Markkanen though did not have the impact as expected with only nine points against the Musketeers. Throughout the game, Arizona could not find a rhythm at both ends.

“We were struggling. We didn’t have a lot of confidence,” said Coach Miller. “We moved our lineup. We went small. And we had a burst where it looked pretty good. And then all of a sudden they would change defenses, and we didn’t have the right group in.”

“We weren’t perfect in the second half,” said Coach Mack. “But we were in the last three, four minutes of the game. And that’s the reason that we were able to win. I told them first shots wouldn’t beat us. Second shots will, and we didn’t give up any second shots down the stretch.”

Now back in the Elite Eight, Xavier has an opportunity to make program history. Like Gonzaga, both schools will be looking to make a Final Four appearance for the first time. With Bill Murray cheering the Musketeers on at the game, dreams may become a reality.

“We got a lot of tough guys,” said Macura. “We played together. And I’m happy that we’re advancing.”

Xavier is capable of beating anybody,” said Coach Miller. “They’re playing great basketball.”

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