Derrick Williams has turned a once-mediocre Arizona Wildcats team into a Cinderella of sorts, and now the nation can see just how talented this sophomore forward is when Arizona takes on the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils tonight in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Williams makes this Arizona team dangerous for several reasons - first, he's the only player you have to focus on. The rest of the supporting cast is difficult to plan for, because they utilize a different player every time. Secondly, Williams is extremely athletic and plays with a high level of confidence in his game. Williams knows he is more talented than his opposition, and works to make sure the team benefits from his presence in every situation.
This isn't to say that Derrick Williams is unstoppable. This first team All-American was slowed down by USC and UCLA during the regular season by employing a tag team defense of tall, long, athletic forwards against him. When the supporting cast isn't hitting their shots, it's easy to collapse on Williams and force him into tough situations. But in the NCAA Tournament, his teammates have stepped up in a big way.
Arizona won 29 games this year because they were dominant on their home court. The McKale Center is a huge home court advantage for the Wildcats, and the student section, which they call the Zona Zoo, is always packed with fans. The Pac-10 was improved over last season, but there are only a handful of good teams in the conference currently, including Washington and UCLA. The talent just isn't there, and Arizona capitalized on the conditions to have a memorable season in Tucson.
During the regular season, MoMo Jones played the second scorer, but he went scoreless against Texas in the Round of 32. Jordin Mayes and Brendon Lavender came off the bench and contributed 24 points in limited playing time. Mayes had only broken double digits in scoring once this entire season, and that was when he put up 11 against Rice. Lavender only scored points in 4 of the last 12 games he's played in.
See, this year's Arizona team is nothing like this year's Duke squad. The Blue Devils have extremely talented, brand name players. You know who they are going to give the ball to, and you still can't stop them. The Wildcats give the ball to whoever is open, and it's not easy to prepare for that either. This game will come down to coaching and preparation, and you know that Coach K is renowned for both of those qualities.
Playing in the Sweet 16 is always a big achievement, but especially for this Arizona team when you look at how poorly last season went. UA didn't make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 seasons, and the team has truly improved in every way. This is the first time in several years where Wildcats fans actually felt like they belonged in the Sweet 16, and the resurgence of the program has made a lot of people very happy.
In the end, Arizona has a chance to win this game against Duke. When you're the five seed, isn't that all you ask of your team?
Arizona vs. Duke tips off at 6:45 Pacific time on CBS. For more Arizona coverage, head over to AZ Desert Swarm.