Strength met Excitement Thursday night at the Huntsman Center.
Strength won, 93-80.And so, the eighth-ranked Arizona Wildcats will now meet the Brigham Young University Cougars Saturday in a Western Regional basketball game with the winner going to the Sweet 16 in Seattle.
St. Francis proved to be as entertaining as its nickname - Red Flash. The Red Flash came into the game with the reputation of being long-range bombers. They enhanced it during their 40 minutes on the floor Thursday, sinking 13 of 25 shots from beyond the three-point line.
The problem was they couldn't stop the West's second seed, Arizona - particularly guard Matt Othick - from doing the same thing. Arizona's 57 percent shooting from three-point land (8 for 14) coupled with its strong inside game was simply too much for St. Francis to deal with.
St. Francis, seeded 15th in the region and in its first NCAA tournament game, had a major matchup problem with the Wildcats. It's tallest starter was 6-7 while Arizona featured two 6-11 starters - Brian Williams and Sean Rooks - and 7-footer Ed Stokes, who rotated in the frontline.
To try to hold the Wildcat frontline in check, the Red Flash guards sagged in toward the basket to help out.
They wound up helping out Othick and his running mates at guard, Matt Muehlebach and Khalid Reeves, as well as swingman Chris Mills.
"I didn't suspect they'd drop off us that far . . . we decided to make them pay for it," Othick said.
The game was less than a minute old when Othick was almost dared to shoot from the right angle in three-point range. He squared up and nestled the ball through the net to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead that was never to be relinquished.
Othick was clearly the main man for Arizona the first 20 minutes, making wide open shot after wide open shot en route to a first-half total of 19 points including 12 from three-point range. He finished as Arizona's leading scorer with 25.
While Othick was getting considerable help from Muehleback, Mills and Stokes in the first half, St. Francis was basically a two-man team, though a good two-man team - Joe Anderson and Mike Iuzzolino.
They took turns scoring in flurries to keep the game from totally getting away in the first half, but still, Arizona did take a 43-29 lead at the break. Actually the score could have read, "Arizona 43, Anderson and Iuzzolino 27 and the rest of the Red Flash 2."
That the Red Flash were able to make some runs in the second half to get within nine points a couple of times with less than 10 minutes to play was probably because they had a third person - guard John Hilvert - join Anderson and Iuzzolino as a major scoring contributor.
Hilvert was scoreless the first half missing all three of his shots. He had an almost Twilight Zone-like transformation the second half, burying three pointers from all around the three-point circle to finish the half and the game with 17 points.
But the Red Flash didn't have the big guys inside to take the pressure off the 5-10 Iuzzolino, 6-3 Hilvert and 6-5 Anderson.
And while they did do a good job collapsing on Arizona's three big men - Rooks (9 points), Williams (4 points) and Stokes (6 points) - Reeves and Mills were able to drive to the hoop repeatedly to either score themselves or dish off to a teammate for a close-in shot.
Mills - the guy who's likely to give BYU fits as far as the Cougars being able to find someone to match up with him - did his damage inside and out. The 6-6 guard-forward transfer from Kentucky finished with 21 points and 8 rebounds.
Anderson led all scorers with 29 points - 15 coming from three-point baskets - and as such passed Maurice Stokes as the all-time leading career scorer for St. Francis. He needed 11 points going into the game. Anderson also was the game's leading rebounder with 12.
Iuzzolino, one of the nation's leading three-point shooters, and the team's leading scorer with a 24.3 points per game average, had a tough time in the second half breaking free for many shots. He was held to seven second-half points and finished with 20 overall.
Joining Othick and Mills in double figures for Arizona were Muehlebach with 16 and Reeves with 11.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson said his team "had to play pretty much as well as we could play to come out on top . . . . I can't imagine any two (guards) playing better than those two (Othick and Muehlebach)."
Olson and St. Francis Coach Jim Baron lauded the effort put forth by the Red Flash. "I feel it was a tremendous effort by our players . . . we just never quit." With the loss, the Red Flash end the season with 24-8 record.
With the victory, Pac-10 champion Arizona improves to 27-6 and gets to go from facing a 6-7 center (St. Francis' Mike Fink) to facing a 7-6 one (BYU's Shawn Bradley) Saturday.