The court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral
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azcentral’s Paola Boivin breaks down Arizona’s loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16. Video: Michael Chow/azcentral.com
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The Arizona Wildcats, who many had in the Final Four, are bounced from the NCAA Tournament. Plus, the Oakland Raiders may soon be the Las Vegas Raiders. Will that actually happen? Video: azcentral sports
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USA TODAY Sports’ George Schroeder looks at how the Jayhawks and Ducks prevailed to set up their upcoming matchup in the Midwest region of the NCAA tournament.
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ULCA head coach Steve Alford acknowledges the game against the two ‘bluebloods’ of NCAA basketball with the most championships between them.
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Considered all but done after losing their star point guard and dropping six straight games in February, Xavier has improbably made a run to the Elite Eight after defeating No. 2 Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen.
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Arizona Wildcats head coach Sean Miller is the third highest-paid head coach in the NCAA Tournament and can earn close to $1 million in bonuses for winning the national title.
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Take a look at some at the faces of celebration and dejection from the tourney.
USA TODAY Sports
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The massive scoreboard known as “Colussus TV” is installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for the upcoming NCAA Final Four games. David Wallace/azentral.com
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Being on network TV means this years NCAA tourney should easily overtake last year’s viewership. Richard Deitsch explains how to watch the Madness.
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Piece by piece, the court for the NCAA Final Four tournament is put together in Glendale
Paola Boivin recaps Arizona’s loss to Xavier
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UCLA’s Steve Alford talks about playing Kentucky
No. 11 Xavier upsets No. 2 Arizona to head to Elite Eight
A closer look at Sean Miller’s salary and bonuses
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Scoreboard installed at University of Phoenix Stadium for Final Four
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SAN JOSE — They say you live by the 3 and you die by the 3, and judging by the sunken, pale faces in the Arizona locker room in San Jose’s SAP Center, it was clear which team’s season died on Thursday night.
And like a crane falling from above, the Wildcats never saw it coming.
There are goals for the Arizona basketball program, and there are expectations, and there is a difference between the two, a difference so thin that the Wildcats could not see between the two after a 73-71 loss to the Xavier Musketeers in Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup.
The goal was simple: Get Sean Miller to his first Final Four.
The expectations were that Xavier would but a blip on that journey. The latest, if anything.
Instead, Dusan Ristic sat in the Arizona locker room shaking his head, staring at a future he could not even fathom.
“I never thought about this before,” he said. “Going into this game, we had so much confidence in our team. We had five days to prepare for Xavier, and we did a good job. They just played better. That’s it. I never thought this could be our last game. It feels really weird right now.”
This was a spring monsoon in Tucson, a flash flood without a warning.
The players didn’t have time to grab umbrellas.
Now they’re left looking up at a Final Four just a bus-ride away, underneath a rain cloud that will take a while to dissipate.
A year after a first-round exit against Wichita State, they go home with unfulfilled dreams. Last year, they knew they were lacking. This year, they thought they had the goods.
“I remember last year was awful, too, and I don’t remember how long the feeling lasts,” Ristic said. “It’s a terrible feeling, one of the worst in basketball.”
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Added guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright: “It’s going to take a couple days, maybe a couple weeks. Last year, we had to watch the rest of the whole tournament. You get this far, and you have high expectations. We expected to survive. To come up short is extremely tough.”
And that’s what happened to so many of Arizona’s outside shots on Thursday — they came up short. Arizona shot 7-for-27 from 3-point range, but the players defended their shot selection after the game. Allonzo Trier, whose last-gasp 3-point attempt rimmed out, believed he had good looks all night, even if he went 3-for-10 from behind the arc. Rawle Alkins, who managed just four points in 31 minutes, put the blame on everything but Arizona’s preparation.
“Upsets happen all the time,” he said. “We came in prepared. We didn’t come in thinking they were an 11-seed and we can’t lose.”
Ultimately, the perennially under-seeded Musketeers proved that under Chris Mack and playing in the Big East, they deserve far better.
So did Arizona players on Thursday.
“I don’t have a sense for this,” Ristic said. “I can’t imagine our season is done. When you play for a program like Arizona, you have the highest possible expectations and goals. And when you don’t fulfill those goals, there’s a funny feeling. You feel empty.”
One locker room over, the Xavier locker room was filled with joy. Players who believed in themselves all year but couldn’t believe their fortune.
The Musketeers are still dancing.
“This is madness,” Xavier center Sean O’Hara said. “Once you’re in this, you never know what’s going to happen.”
For one team, yes, it’s March Madness.
For the other, March Sadness, and they just hope the rain cloud goes away before April.