It was not long ago (A couple of years ago when the Pac-10/12 was at its lowest point) that some were claiming that San Diego State may have been the best program on the West Coast. Now, just a few years later, Arizona has risen to not just the top of the West Coast, but the entire nation under Sean Miller and are the unquestioned kings of the West, but now the Aztecs have the chance to knock off the Wildcats just up the freeway from their campus and make a major statement.
Speaking of major statements, the Wildcats made their first of the season in mid-November when they went into San Diego and knocked off the Aztecs, but that was five months ago and rematches tend to favor the team that lost the first match-up quite frequently. The Wildcats are close to being a perfect team, especially on defense but the Aztecs are one of the few teams that can match them on the defensive end of the floor and will be playing less than a couple of hours from home. On paper, the Wildcats should still should be solid favorites, but they will need to be able to keep their offense flowing and score with ease against the stellar Aztec defense, or this one could go down to the wire and be anyone's game.
The biggest key for the Wildcats will likely be keeping their shooting up to snuff from inside and outside the three-point line along with at the free throw stripe. The Wildcats are not one of the most-prolific offenses in the country, but are among the nation's best in efficiency on offense and have maintained it thus far during the tournament, particularly in their domination of Gonzaga. If Nick Johnson, Gabe York and Nick McConnell can knock down threes the way that they did against the Bulldogs, it is really going to open up the inside for Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and company - making the Wildcats an almost unstoppable force.
It won't be easy for the Wildcats from outside though as the Aztecs have one of the best perimeter defenses in the nation and the Wildcats are not an elite outside shooting team and could easily go cold, turning the game into an inside, grind-it-out battle that would likely keep the score low and close. The Aztecs and Wildcats may not have particularly tough reputations, but I have the feeling that both are ready to duke it out in this one and it could be a game simply where whoever is tougher and hits the shots in the final moments.
If this ends up being the case, the Wildcats will sorely miss forward Brandon Ashley, but seven foot center Kaleb Tarczewski could be a huge factor and an ace-in-the-hole for the Wildcats. The Aztecs don't have anyone who can match Tarczewski's size and physicality and if he can make himself a force to be reckoned with down low, it could really open up things for Gordon, who will be dealing with the plethora of similar, long and rangy, athletic defenders who could slow him down.
More than ever, it could be time for Arizona's biggest man, to have a big game.