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Sunday, March 22, 2009

No. 12-seeded Arizona beats Cleveland St 71-57

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— The new role as long shots seems to suit the Arizona Wildcats fine.

Seeded only 12th, the NCAA tournament perennials took an early 14-point lead Sunday and advanced to the round of 16 by beating upstart Cleveland State 71-57.

The Wildcats are appearing in the tournament for the 25th year in a row, two shy of the record. But they've never been seeded so low and drew criticism as undeserving of a berth.

Now they're bound for the round of 16 for the 12th time since 1988, and they'll be the lowest-seeded team still playing.

Nic Wise scored 21 points to lead four double-figure scorers for the Wildcats (21-13), who earned a trip the Midwest Regional semifinal in Indianapolis. On Friday they'll meet the winner of Sunday's game between Louisville and Siena.

Bracket-busting Cleveland State (26-11), at No. 13 the lowest-seeded team to reach the second round, was unable to duplicate its improbable run to the regional final in 1986. That's the only other time the Vikings made the tournament.

Cleveland State struggled to solve Arizona's zone defense, shooting 3-for-23 from 3-point range and 37 percent overall. The Wildcats also hurt Cleveland State with their transition game, totaling 15 fast-break points, often to swing momentum.

The Vikings trailed 41-29, then cut the deficit to 48-44 midway through the second half but got no closer. Arizona scored on four consecutive possessions — including seven points by Wise — for a 61-52 lead, and the margin was at least seven the rest of the way.

Arizona put the game away with free throws and finished 24-for-28 from the line.

Jordan Hill had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats despite being limited to 32 minutes because of foul trouble. Chase Budinger and Jamelle Horne had 15 points apiece.

The victory is the latest chapter in a roller-coaster season for Arizona following Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson's sudden retirement last fall. The Wildcats barely made the tournament after losing five of their final six regular-season games.

Norris Cole scored 17 points for Cleveland State. Teammate Cedric Jackson was sidelined by a blow to the face in the first half but missed only three minutes and finished with 15 points.

But forwards J'Nathan Bullock and George Tandy shot a combined 4-for-17.

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