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Xavier v. Arizona: So very, very close

Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook did not go gently, fighting Arizona tooth and nail for 40 minutes before falling agonizingly short.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier was my dad's team before it was the team of Joel, Bryan, and I. He talks about Pete Gillen, Brian Grant, Tyrone Hill, and the start of a tradition of excellence. It was the team of the next generation of us before we passed it on to our kids. In a million different driveway games on a thousand different days we were Gary Lumpkin, Lenny Brown, and James Posey, always winning a national championship on a last second three pointer by Joel masquerading as Lenny. Now, our kids take up the mantle, and somewhere in their stories will feature a big man from Cleveland and a much smaller man from Indiana.

Xavier isn't Duke, it's not Kentucky, it's not Arizona, or UCLA, or Syracuse, or Michigan State. At Xavier players come and stay, they grow through four years and develop into the kind of players that go punch for punch with five star recruits and NBA prospects for 40 minutes. The national media penciled Arizona into the next round, talked about what a great matchup Wisconsin would be, mentioned that Xavier should just be happy to be here, and generally treated this game as if it was over before it began. It wasn't though, because Xavier's four year men didn't want it to be.

Early in the game Reggie Miller, who is horrendous behind a microphone, said that Matt Stainbrook (17/10/2) doesn't look much like a basketball player. For 34 minutes last night, Matt looked however he cared to, but was very much the best player on the floor. Arizona couldn't stop him with a guard digging to double, and risked a quick pass to a dunking Jalen Reynolds (12/3/0) every time the came post to post. Only as Xavier's big man finally began to weary could the Wildcats do anything with him.

TJ McConnell will take all the press today, and he did play a good game, but another Xavier senior gave him all he could handle in the backcourt all day. Dee Davis (12/3/4) is a listed six feet and 161 pounds, but is in reality smaller than that. Possessed of a shot that an announcer last called a slingshot, an unorthodox dribbling style, and a frame more often seen in low majors, Dee wrung every last bit out of his talent for four years at X, and last night was no exception. McConnell went right at Dee to start the game, and Dee answered by attacking him right back for Xavier's first bucket. Despite being credited with four turnovers (at least one of which he didn't actually commit), Dee was calm at the point of attack all night for the Musketeers.

Ultimately it was the things that cost Xavier all year that did them in last night. 3-17 from deep and a seven and a half minute field goal drought aren't going to make it easy to beat Marquette, let alone the second best team in the nation. For 33 minutes though, Xavier was up to the task. The defense was active and aggressive, switching out of man to man when they were gashed by dribble penetration to a 1-3-1 that gave the Wildcats fits all game. The defense was the 14th most efficient performance against Arizona all year, the offense was the eighth best performance Arizona gave up all year.

The Xavier team that everyone counted out gave the prohibitive favorite fits all night. The Musketeers were never cowed, Jalen spun and dunked and slammed his chest, Myles Davis (8/5/2) drained a three pointer to give X a late lifeline, JP Macura (2/0/1), God bless him, attacked and shot without a hint of compunction, it was actually him that tied the game for the first time, putting the ball on the floor and attacking the Arizona defense on the dribble. Xavier fought one of the best rebounding teams in the nation to a complete draw on the boards, making the larger Wildcats fight for every single rebound they got.

In the end, it wasn't quite enough for Xavier. The Final Four berth will wait for another year as the more talented team eventually scraped clear in the last six minutes. Xavier isn't yet UK, Duke, or the other very top of the pile programs, but they are so very close. Players like Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis continue the tradition that Brian Grant, Byron Larkin, and Tyrone Hill started. In driveways the state over today, little Dee Davis' and Matt Stainbrook's will be winning national championships with last second shots. Last night on the grand stage, Xavier once again served notice they aren't that far away from the real thing.