Arizona center Oumar Ballo celebrated after his Wildcats captured the Pac-12 tournament title and celebrated again Sunday after learning his team would play Princeton in the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. (Photo by Nikash Nath/Cronkite News)
Arizona well represented in March Madness with ASU, UArizona and GCU
Bobby Hurley jumped into a pool to celebrate. Grand Canyon players partied at GCU Arena. And the University of Arizona basketball team gathered at a restaurant near campus. And it's only the start of March Madness in Arizona.
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They all received the news differently but the outcome was the same: Thee of Arizona’s four Division I universities punched their tickets to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Additionally, the Arizona women’s team will play in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
“All seasons, when we’ve been down, I told our guys we’re going to find a way to win,” ASU coach Hurley said. “It’s pretty special to have a group that believes in what you’re doing.”
March Madness in Arizona
ASU’s matchup against Nevada Wednesday in a First Four game in Dayton is an intriguing one.
Two ASU players, forward Warren Washington and guard Desmond Cambridge Jr., transferred to Tempe from Nevada almost a year ago. Although Hurley acknowledged he will talk to both players for insight, much of the next few days will involve Hurley and his staff watching video of the Wolf Pack and preparing for matchups.
The name of Nevada’s coach may sound familiar. Steve Alford, a former high school and college standout in Indiana, was UCLA’s coach for six seasons before taking over the Nevada program in 2019.
“I have a ton of respect for Steve. … He’s done an outstanding job, particularly for what he lost,” Hurley said, adding that “to lose that much production says volume about what kind of coach he is.”
Nevada lost five players to the transfer portal in the offseason, including the two ASU players and guard Grant Sherfield, who left for Oklahoma.
ASU went through its own struggles this season but finished 22-12 and secured impressive victories over Arizona and Creighton.
The ASU-Nevada winner will advance to play TCU in Denver.
Sunday, the Wildcats patiently waited for their names to be called. Fresh off a Pac-12 tournament championship and a dominant regular season, the team knew it was just a matter of time before it would happen. As they sat there still wearing their Pac-12 tournament championship shirts and hats in front of hundreds of fans, the players learned they were selected as the No. 2 seed in the South Region.
As the team’s name popped up on the big screen that was on the stage, fans cheered. The path to the championship had been set and the first step for the Wildcats is No. 15 seed Princeton.
After the reveal was over, Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd stepped up on stage to address the team and crowd. Altough the team will undoubtedly be a large favorite over Princeton, Lloyd shared that the team’s mentality is to take it game by game and to not overlook any opponent.
“We are a team that does not look past any game,” he said. “I am looking forward to seeing what these Princeton Tigers got.”
The Tigers finished the regular season at 21-8 and earned an automatic bid after winning the Ivy League Tournament.
Should the Wildcats be successful against Princeton, they will take on the winner of Utah State and Missouri. They also share the region with a talented group of teams, including Alabama, Baylor and Virginia. Although the region is filled with quality competition, Arizona guard Cedric Henderson Jr. said it simply means the Wildcats will have to be at their best.
“All I see are teams that we are going to have to play and teams that are really good,” he said. “It means we are going to have to come out every night and give our best shot.”
The other Arizona school to be represented in the men’s tournament is GCU. The ‘Lopes finds themselves as the No. 14 seed in the West Region and have a first round matchup against a true college basketball juggernaut in Gonzaga. GCU earned its bid into the tournament by winning the WAC conference tournament.
The Arizona women’s basketball team was awarded a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and will play West Virginia Friday in College Park, Maryland.