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Preview: Belmont vs. Arizona

Preview: Belmont vs. Arizona

Arizona's season has played like a country music song, so it's fitting that the sixth-seeded Wildcats will meet No. 11 seed Belmont on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's South Regional in Salt Lake City. Belmont, a private school located in Nashville, earned its sixth NCAA Tournament berth in the last eight seasons with a dramatic 70-68 win over Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference title game.

Arizona, which is facing Belmont for the first time in school history, fell to UCLA for the third time this season in the Pac-12 semifinals. The Wildcats opened the season with 14 straight wins and defeated Miami and Florida in non-conference play, but they won just five of their final 10 games. Belmont is 1-4 all-time against Pac-12 opponents, including a 70-62 win at Stanford on Nov. 18.

TV: 7:20 p.m. ET, TNT

ABOUT BELMONT (26-6): Inexperience won't be an issue for the Bruins, who feature a veteran squad with four starters scoring in double figures. Belmont, which lost 74-59 to Georgetown in last season's NCAA Tournament, is led by the senior backcourt of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson. Clark was named the conference co-player of the year while averaging 18.1 points and shooting 54.1 percent. Belmont leads the conference in scoring (77.2) and defense (64), and the Bruins are also dangerous from 3-point range. Belmont's long-range shooting could be a decisive factor against Arizona, which ranked last in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goal defense. The Bruins will need a big game from senior forward Trevor Noack, who will be asked to neutralize the powerful Arizona frontcourt.

ABOUT ARIZONA (25-7): The Wildcats finished in a second-place tie in the Pac-12 at 12-6, and they're making their second NCAA Tournament appearance in four years under coach Sean Miller. Arizona was winless in five games against tournament teams UCLA, Oregon and California and it seemed to be looking for trouble in recent weeks. Case in point: Miller received his first technical foul this season with 4:37 left in the Wildcats' 66-64 loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals. Xavier transfer Mark Lyons leads the team in scoring (14.8), but the senior point guard struggled offensively down the stretch. Sophomore guard Nick Johnson has averaged 15 points over the last three games, but forward Solomon Hill could be the key player against the undersized Bruins.

TIP-INS

  1. The winner will face No. 3 seed New Mexico or 14th-seed Harvard on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

  2. A team from the Ohio Valley Conference has won at least one NCAA Tournament game in four straight seasons.

  3. Belmont coach Rick Byrd is 0-5 in the NCAAs.

PREDICTION: Belmont 74, Arizona 71