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March 17, 2013
The beauty of March and the NCAA tournament is that the slate is wiped clean and a team stumbling into the field of 68 has the chance to create some noise.
The Wildcats found out Sunday that they will enter the Big Dance as the No. 6 seed in the West Regional and face No. 11 Belmont in a second-round contest Thursday in Salt Lake City. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:20 p.m. PDT/Arizona time and will air on TNT.
The winner will face No. 3 New Mexico or No. 14 Harvard.
The four No. 1 seeds are: Louisville (Midwest Regional, No. 1 overall seed in the tournament), Kansas (South Regional), Indiana (East Regional) and Gonzaga (West Regional). The Pac-12 received four other bids including tournament champion Oregon (No. 12 in the Midwest), UCLA (No. 6 in the South), Colorado (No. 10 in the East) and California (No. 12 in the East).
Although many projections had the Wildcats pegged for a higher seed, UA head coach Sean Miller said his team's selection is "probably pretty accurate."
Arizona, which will make its 29th appearance, missed the NCAA tournament a season ago and was knocked out in the opening round of the NIT by Bucknell. Miller is just glad to be back in the mix for a national championship.
"We're obviously honored to be a part of the NCAA tournament," Miller said after his team's draw was announced. "At the University of Arizona, because it was such a fixture of our program and college basketball for so long, you almost sometimes can take for granted being in it. I'm grateful, I know our team is grateful, that we're in it.
"The only thing you need a reminder of is to look at Kentucky. The machine that they were a year ago, the overall No. 1 seed and the national champ, and a year later to not be part of the tournament. It shows the parity and how this game that we're in is changed. That's why March Madness is so special."
Belmont (26-6) won the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title and the conference tournament. The Bruins will be seeking their first NCAA tournament victory in the program's sixth trip.
Arizona (25-7), which finished in a three-way tie for second in the Pac-12, has been up and down for the last 2 1/2 weeks. The Wildcats were swept out of Los Angeles in a two-game trip before closing the regular-season with a win over rival Arizona State.
UA appeared to be on the upswing after defeating Colorado, 79-69, in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. Nick Johnson, inconsistent throughout the second half of the season, looked like his old self with a game-high 18 points and the bench produced 25 points. Balance was restored.
But the Bruins stepped on the see-saw and knocked the 'Cats out with a 40-point second-half en route to a 66-64 win. In the losing effort, reserve Brandon Ashley led the way with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
It was the freshmen like Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski who found good fortune during brief stay in Las Vegas. The trio combined to score 29 points, pull down 19 rebounds and make 12 of 16 shots against UCLA.
Now, Ashley is hoping that the momentum carries over into his first trip to the NCAA tournament.
"I think we know that we're a good team," Ashley said after the loss to the Bruins. "We played with energy, we played hard. We're going to be fine."