Arizona starts tournament play against Texas Southern

Mar 19, 2015 - 2:33 PM Portland, OR ( - Winners of 11 straight, the fifth-ranked Arizona Wildcats get their NCAA Tournament schedule off the ground on Thursday, as they take on the Texas Southern Tigers in the second round at the Moda Center.

One of the favorites all season long to make a major splash in the tourney, Arizona lost a total of only three games and was 16-2 against Pac-12 Conference foes. After losing to in-state rival Arizona State back on Feb. 7, the squad went untouched the rest of the way, breezing through the conference tournament with wins over California, UCLA and, in the title game, Oregon (80-52).

A fixture in this tournament, second-seeded Arizona is taking part for the 32nd time overall and has a record of 51-30 to show for previous efforts. The team has one NCAA Championship to crow about, that coming in 1997.

As for the 15th-seeded Tigers, they make their arrival after clearing out space in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, winning the regular-season title with a mark of 16-2. The team eventually produced a record of 22-12 overall, even though they lost five in a row and eight of the first nine games of the campaign.

Texas Southern, which was extended safe passage into the tourney by way of winning the SWAC Tournament against Southern (62-58), has taken part in this tournament five times previously and is still waiting to score that first win.

The winner of this meeting, the first-ever between the two programs, will be back in action this weekend against the survivor of the Ohio State/VCU clash in the third round.

Because of a very rocky non-conference experience this season, the stats do not appear that favorable for the Tigers, but that just goes to show what it means to get hot at the right time. The squad is averaging only 68.2 ppg and is giving up 67.4 ppg, although the latter number could have been even higher if not for the fact that those opponents knocked down just 64.4 percent of their tries at the free-throw line.

At the offensive end of the floor, Madarious Gibbs is the focal point with his 14.1 ppg and 4.3 apg, although his mere 25.3 percent accuracy behind the 3- point line left a lot to be desired from a player who is supposed to have the option to both set up teammates and be a threat on the outside. Chris Thomas (12.6 ppg), Deverell Biggs (11.8 ppg) and Malcolm Riley (10.2 ppg) all played a significant role in the Tigers offense this season.

Winners of the Pac-12 Tournament for the second straight year and third time in the last five, the Wildcats had plenty of players helping them along the way. One of those was Stanley Johnson, who was not only named the league's freshman of the year, but also found a place on the All-Pac-12 First Team, scoring in double figures in all but five of the games in which he appeared. A savy player who spent quite a bit of time at the free-throw line (124-of-170), Johnson scored a team-best 14.1 ppg and was also among the leaders in rebounding (6.6 rpg) and steals (51).

Brandon Ashley accounted for another 12.3 ppg, hitting his field goals at a 51.5 percent clip, followed by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who dropped in 10.9 ppg and cleared 6.8 rpg to pace the program in the latter category. T.J. McConnell was the floor general for the Wildcats as he handed out 218 assists against only 67 turnovers, and also added 9.8 ppg to make him a tough matchup for defenders.

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