Anaheim, Calif., November 30, 2019 – After two harrowing victories in the Paycome Wooden Legacy, Arizona coach Sean Miller virtually wiped the sweat off his brow.
“I do think we were better through stretches of this game on defense, but we have to continue to improve. We really do,” Miller said after the No. 14 Wildcats’ 92-82 semifinal win over Penn. “Some of it (is having) a lot of young guys and having teams like Pepperdine and Penn, they drive young guys crazy. They have never seen the movement in the shooting in these spots like they’re dealing with right now.
“That’s the good part about being here at this tournament.”
The other good part is that Arizona (8-0) is in Sunday’s championship game against Wake Forest (5-2), which advanced with victories over Charleston and Long Beach State.
“We’re excited. That’s always the goal,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “We came out with the goal to win this thing and we’re in a situation to have that opportunity.”
It’s only the second meeting between the schools, the first coming in November 2004 in Madison Square Garden when Chris Paul led Wake Forest to a 63-60 victory in the championship game of the Preseason NIT.
Wake Forest also claimed the 2008 Wooden Legacy trophy.
As much as Miller has to guide his young players through the intricacies of playing defense at a much higher level than they’re used to, he’ll likely have four freshmen in the starting lineup.
And the gem of that class is turning out to be guard Nico Mannion, who had 16 points, 11 assists and a running bank shot for the win against Pepperdine, a shot that Miller likened to Magic Johnson’s junior skyhook against Boston in the 1988 NBA Finals.
“He’s made a lot of game-winners in his day,” Miller said of Mannion. “That’s what great guards do for him to take the ball full court like that and make that shot, it was a big moment for us.”
Mannion also scored 24 points, making 11 of 14 shots, in the semifinals.
Wake Forest senior guard Brandon Childress scored 17 to lead the Demon Deacons past Long Beach State in the semifinals, but he was just one of six in double figures, joining Andrien White, Chaundee Brown, Torry Johnson and Isaiah Mucius and Olivier Sarr.
“We’re doing a good job of feeding one another,” Childress said. “Early in the (semifinal) is was Andrien and I who had it going, but we didn’t want to settle for jump shots and had to get the big fellas involved. So we got Ody (Oguama), Olivier involved in the paint. We just fed off each other’s energy.”
The game tips off at the Anaheim Arena at 6 p.m. PST on ESPN.
Third place: Long Beach State (3-5) vs. Penn (4-3), 10:30 a.m., ESPN2 – Quietly, Beach guard Michael Carter III has emerged as one of the most efficient players in the tournament, averaging 20.5 points and 6 assists. Long Beach will likely be without defensive stopper Drew Cobb, who sprained his ankle in the semifinal. Penn has feisty forward AJ Brodeur (averaging 17.7 points, 8.6 points and nearly five assists per game on the season) but watch out for guard Jordan Dingle, who nailed seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points against Arizona).
Fifth place: Charleston (4-3) vs. UCF (4-2), 1 p.m., ESPNU – Both teams rebounded from first-round losses. With big man Collin Smith battling foul trouble in the semifinals, Ceasar DeJesus and Brandon Mahan came off the bench to combine for 32 of UCF’s 40 points from the reserves. Charleston guard Grant Riller, tied for second in scoring in the tournament, had 29 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the Cougars’ semifinal victory.
Seventh place: Providence (4-4) vs. Pepperdine (3-5), 3 p.m., ESPNU – Pepperdine had three players score 20 or more points in a heartbreaking 93-91 loss to Arizona in the opener, and guard Colbey Ross tied a Wooden Legacy record with 12 assists for the Waves in the semifinals. It’s been a frustrating two games for the Friars, who saw a 17-point second-half lead slip away against Long Beach State in the opener and a 13-point lead was squandered against Charleston. Guard Alpha Diallo is averaging 13.3 points on the season and has been a defensive stalwart in this event with 15 rebounds and six steals.