Just one top-notch basketball talent can take a team deep in the NCAA tournament…
Behind the broad shoulders and long arms of one, Derrick Williams, the Arizona Wildcats have transformed from an afterthought into a contender. Now, with the talented sophomore forward leading the way, Arizona will square off against the perennial Big Dance big dogs – the Duke Blue Devils.
While the Wildcats haven't been on the radar before, fans and critics alike can’t help but marvel at the element Williams adds to this ballclub. As athletic as anyone his size in this tournament, the sophomore is the ideal fit for the capable supporting cast that plays to his strengths and covers up his weaknesses.
A total package, Williams can wear down opposing defenses with his myriad of scoring capabilities on the offensive end, only to block the opposing offenses last second shot with his long, out-stretched arms on the defensive end.
Sure, Williams and the Wildcats have stumbled along the way. The Los Angeles teams -- USC and UCLA -- gave this squad fits. They threw off his rhythm by walling off Williams from his teammates with multiple defenders and various schemes. They figured the supporting cast wouldn't be able to compensate for the absence of their leader, and they succeeded with this game plan.
Yet, despite the blueprint being laid out of them, other teams haven’t been able to capitalize.
Arizona has been absolutely dominant on their home floor this year, and this should prove to be an advantage in Thursday’s game. Further, it’s doubtful that the team’s leading scorer, MoMo Jones, will go scoreless in this outing like he did against the Texas Longhorns in the last round. Even if he does, though, Jordan Mayes and Brandon Lavender, who had 24 points in limited action in that effort, will be there to step up again.
Duke, meanwhile, comes into this game after an interesting showing against the Michigan Wolverines in 73-71 victory. Despite blowing a 15-point second half lead, a win is a win -- and any win suffices if it carries you into the next round.
The Blue Devils shot well enough from the field against Michigan, hitting 25 of their 49 shots for a 51 percent total. Of that total, though, 40 percent of their shots came from the three-point line, where they only shot five of 20 for a 25 percent total.
Kyrie Irvin will be critical for Duke. While 11 points in 21 minutes against Michigan was enough, the Dukies will need more from their returning star if they want to get past this more-than-capable Arizona squad.
At the end of the day, this game will speak volumes about the mental toughness of both these teams. Can Duke overcome the collapse it had in the second half of the Michigan game? Can Arizona continue its Cinderella-like run through the Big Dance?
We’ll find out on Thursday afternoon