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Sweet 16 Preview West Regional - (5) Arizona vs. (1) Duke

Thursday, 30 minutes after UConn/San Diego State

> View all of our 2011 NCAA Tournament Coverage online at CollegeSports-Fans.com!



A full ten years after they last met in the NCAA Tournament with a lot more on the line, Duke and Arizona – two programs that have been fixtures in the March Madness firmament since the mid-1980s – will lock horns once again at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. While a Sweet 16 game is nothing to sneeze at – every game at this stage or later is freighted with importance and urgency – the previous Duke-Arizona duel in the NCAA Tournament carried a considerable degree of added significance.

In 2001, the Blue Devils and the Wildcats took the court inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis on a Monday night. Yes, Monday – the last night of the college basketball season. Iconic coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Lute Olson matched wits as their programs fought for the national championship of college basketball. Shane Battier and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. (Duke) traded haymakers with Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson (Arizona) in a game loaded with top-level talent. Those two teams set the bar very high for college basketball excellence, making this clash seem small by comparison a decade later.

Yet, a regional semifinal is still a forum for the upper-tier teams in college basketball, and given the fact that the 2011 editions of the Wildcats and Devils won conference championships (Zona in the Pac-10 regular season, Duke in the ACC Tournament), these are not Cinderellas by any stretch of the imagination. Olson might be gone and Sean Miller might now be coaching Arizona, but this game will certainly feel like a main-event throwdown when it commences on the West Coast.

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The big source of intrigue heading into tip-off is if Arizona star Derrick Williams – who has suffered from a hand injury endured late in the season – can play his best game and, more particularly, shoot the ball accurately from distance. Williams didn’t score a point in the first half of Sunday’s game against the University of Texas Longhorns, a fact that his team was able to surmount… at least for a long enough period of time that Williams was able to gather his strength. When his teammates – who had been carrying him on their backs – needed him to step into the breach and perform, Williams did just that. His hoop-and-harm and-one score with just under 10 seconds left catapulted Arizona to a stunning 70-69 win over Texas last Sunday, propelling the Cats to the Sweet 16. The win was amazing for many reasons, chiefly that Arizona had beaten no one of appreciable stature or quality outside the Pac-10 during the regular season. The U of A’s biggest scalp came against North Carolina State, a team that completely missed any of college basketball’s four postseason tournaments.

Will Derrick Williams be able to deliver the goods for 40 minutes? Will Arizona, emboldened by its first impressive win of 2011, become a transformed team that can knock out Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler, and the rest of the defending national champions? Don’t bet on it happening, but then again, we’ve seen crazier things happen in college basketball over the years.

This is March, you know.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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