The fourth-seeded Texas Longhorns (28-7) and fifth-seeded Arizona Wildcats (28-7) lost their conference tournament championship games and got thrown back into the fire in competitive second-round games of the NCAA tournament on Friday, each winning close games to advance to this West Region third-round matchup on Sunday at the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa. The Longhorns (-6) and Wildcats were both favored against their respective opponents but failed to cover the spread in games that were decided by a combined six points.
Arizona edged #12 Memphis 77-75 with star forward Derrick Williams blocking the potential game-tying shot in the final seconds, the team’s second straight game with the same score. The Wildcats were on the wrong end of a 77-75 overtime loss to Washington in the Pac-10 Conference championship game last Saturday.
Williams won Pac-10 Player of the Year honors and lived up to the hype in his first career game at the Big Dance, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds. Lamont Williams added 18 points for an Arizona team that was outrebounded 29-28 and made three less shots from the field, shooting 46 percent compared to 49 for Memphis. The difference came at the free-throw line, where the Wildcats scored nine more points and earned seven more attempts.
Texas looked like it would easily cover the 10-point spread against Oakland after taking a 46-38 halftime lead. However, the Longhorns could not put away the pesky Golden Grizzlies, who used a late 12-2 run to pull within 80-75 with 1:25 remaining in the game. They made 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute to pull out the 85-81 victory but fell short against the double-digit line.
Freshman Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Texas and will likely be matched up with Arizona’s Williams, who is a sophomore. NBA scouts will be watching a talented group of underclassmen that also includes Longhorns sophomore guards Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown along with freshman Cory Joseph. Brown scored a team-high 21 points in 24 minutes against Oakland while Hamilton had 19 and Joseph added 11.
Head coach Rick Barnes has not gotten Texas to the Sweet 16 since losing to top seed Memphis 85-67 in the 2008 South Regional Final. The Longhorns were a #2 seed that year but have not advanced past this round in three of the past four seasons despite making the NCAA tournament each time.
That is good news for the Wildcats, who are a remarkable 10-1 against the spread in their last 11 games against Big 12 foes. They also covered their last two games in the Pac-10 tournament as underdogs and are 3-1 ATS in their past four overall as dogs, winning two of those straight-up.
Pick: Arizona +6