After coasting to a pair of double digit victories last week, Xavier fans had to figure the road only got steeper from here. A rematch of a close game from the 2015 Sweet Sixteen produced an even better contest as the game swung back and forth between two teams trying to fulfill their preseason expectations. In the end, Xavier exorcized some demons from their past two departures from the NCAA Tournament, beating Arizona and former coach Sean Miller, and doing so by getting a couple of clutch defensive stops.
Trevon comes to play in big games now
A big story two seasons ago between these teams was the disappointing performance of freshman Trevon Bluiett, who was a complete non-factor as X was knocked out. Tonight the young man came to play in a big way, racking up 18 points on 7-7 shooting in the first half to keep Xavier in the game. Late on, he buried a clutch three to spark the decisive 9-0 run. It wasn’t just hero ball from Tre though, as he found Sean O’Mara for the decisive basket with 44 seconds left. Bluiett has been raising his game for the past three weeks, and he has Xavier within a game of the promised land.
Mal is not going out quietly
Malcolm Bernard was the vocal leader at the players-only meeting that turned the season around for Xavier after the six game losing streak. Tonight, he banged in three vital second half threes, including one which contributed to his five points in the decisive run, and secured the final rebound needed to see off Arizona. Mal is not the classic Xavier senior who has spent the last four seasons building a cache of memories in the minds of fans, but he has made the most of his one season. Perhaps no play better exemplified his impact tonight than him charging back on a run out to deny Arizona a fast break basket with a resounding block. Mal’s career didn’t end tonight, but when it does he will leave Xavier with some very cherished memories.
There is still no quit in this team
They have gotten beaten soundly several times, they have had catastrophic second half meltdowns, they have gotten bullied out of games, they lost four of five and six in a row at various points in the season, but anyone who questioned this team’s toughness and guts (looking at you Jim Jackson) has been clearly shown the ignorance in their assertions. Xavier trailed by eight points with 3:30 left in the game, having seen Alonzo Trier and Kadeem Allen push Arizona to the biggest lead either team enjoyed in the second half. From there X went on a 12-2 run fueled by five points each from Bluiett and Bernard and the winner from O’Mara. Even more vitally, Arizona, who had grabbed 14 offensive rebounds on the night, could not get back a miss in crunch time, as Xavier buckled down on the boards and made the Wildcats beat them with their jump shots.