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    March Madness: Craziest faces of the NCAA tournament

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    March Madness: Sweet 16 preview

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    Arizona advances to Sweet 16 to face Xavier

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    Scoreboard installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for Final Four

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    NCAA tournament preview: Title favorites to biggest snubs

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ghosts of Final Fours past flocked to the SAP Center on Thursday hoping to deliver a little postseason juju for Arizona.

Steve Kerr. Miles Simon. Tom Tolbert.

Emotions were high as the Wildcats took the court in the NCAA Tournament West Regional. The father of Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Ramon, covered his face with his hands before the game started.

A lot was at stake.

HEAT INDEX: Odds say Wildcats a good bet to keep dancing

When you consider what Sean Miller has accomplished in eight seasons at Arizona – six NCAA Tournaments, three Elite Eights – it is hardly fair that he is often judged by what he hasn’t:

Advancing to the Final Four.

He is one of two coaches in this four-team West Regional who are among the top three of all-time with the most NCAA Tournament wins but no Final Four. He came into this game with 19. Mark Few, whose Gonzaga team beat West Virginia in the early game, has 24.

The Wildcats crowd was spirited but did not have the strong presence typical at events like the Pac-12 Tournament. Tickets were expensive and the tourney was not sold out.

Arizona players looked loose before the game

As they exited the team bus, guard Kobi Simmons danced and forward Lauri Markkanen mugged for the camera.

For part of the first game, the players sat behind the West Virginia band and mascot, the Mountaineer looking like a sentry guarding them.

From what? Maybe the pressure of expectations.

They were watching one of the four teams they lost to this season: Gonzaga.

But they were a different team then. One without Allonzo Trier.

One that feels a whole lot better about itself at full strength.

Does Sean Miller have destiny on his side?

One of the funniest moments of the NCAA Tournament West Regional was when Arizona coach Sean Miller and Xavier’s Chris Mack ran into each other in the hallway of the SAP Center on Wednesday.

“Feel like we’re Trump and Obama right now,” an Arizona Daily Star photographer caught Mack saying.

Although the two will duke it out tonight for the right to move a step closer to the Final Four, they are good friends. Mack was an assistant on Miller’s staff at Xavier before Miller left for Arizona.

The NCAA Tournament always seems to present story lines involving fate and here’s another: The person that hired Miller at Xavier just happens to be the president and CEO for Final Four Phoenix.

Dawn Rogers.

She was the athletic director at Xavier.

“I had had the great pleasure to have worked with him as the associate head coach,” Rogers said Thursday of Miller. “Seeing him in the gym and how he worked side by side with coach (Thad) Matta, they were really attached at the hip.

“For me it was such a natural decision to move one chair over on the bench … he called defense, he was integral in practices, he was  a huge part of recruiting. You had great confidence because you knew him.”

If destiny is a story line in this Final Four, Arizona’s chances are looking better all the time.

MORE: All eyes on Alkins’ finger ahead of Sweet 16 matchup

Dick Vitale praises Sean Miller ahead of Sweet 16 matchup

Greetings from San Jose, where the air is brisk, the start-ups are everywhere and the local NHL team wins a lot of dang games.

It is also home to the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional. I spoke with Dick Vitale on Wednesday, who was breathless talking about Arizona coach Sean Miller in between promoting the Allstate Bracket Predictor. He raved about how Miller has appeared at Vitale’s fundraisers to fight cancer, but also made a pitch that Miller should be a serious candidate for National Coach of the Year.

“What he has had to deal with this season with that lineup, how could he not be considered?” said Vitale, who will work the Final Four for ESPN International.


Here are some good pregame reads before tonight’s Xavier-Arizona game, one that has Las Vegas calling the Wildcats a 7 1/2-point favorite:

Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News believes “the Wildcats must utilize their size advantage more effectively than Florida State did in its 25-point loss Saturday to the Musketeers. Arizona has the balance, defense and depth to make life tough for Xavier.”

Turner Sports analyst Steve Lavin told the Arizona Daily Star that “people are evaluating Xavier based on their freefall when they lost seven of 10 games (including six in a row). But they reinvented themselves and this current group is playing at a very high level in terms of confidence. You look at them and it’s `Who are those guys having career nights?’ ”

Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn looks at Allonzo Trier’s journey which includes this quote from the player about testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs: “I was shocked, because I had no clue how it was in my system. I was like, ‘What do you mean? There’s no possible way.’ ”

And Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury Newswrites that Sean Miller “has emerged as one of the conference’s most influential voices in matters of basketball scheduling and student-athlete welfare.”

Paola Boivin is in San Jose for the West Regional and will provide updates and analysis on the Arizona Wildcats this week. Follow her on Twitter: Twitter.com/PaolaBoivin and like the azcentral sports Facebook page for a video chat with Paola at 4 p.m. today.


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