There often comes a time in an NCAA tournament when everything suddenly goes right for the underdog, and wrong for the favorite. Thursday evening at Taco Bell Arena, that stretch lasted about 35 minutes — the amount of time that Buffalo, a 13-seed, led fourth-seeded Arizona. Eight of those minutes featured a double-digit edge.
This was not just a win for the Bulls — it was a warning to Kentucky that those Wildcats might be next.
Buffalo shot 54.8% from the field, including 50% from three (15-for-30), and pulled off one of the more improbable upsets of the day in downing Arizona 89-68. It is just the third time in school history that Buffalo has been in the NCAA tournament; the Bulls went for the first time in 2015, with Bobby Hurley as coach. It was the first win for Buffalo.
Buffalo’s win put a kibosh on what many were describing as mini Final Four of sorts in Boise. Gonzaga-Ohio State is one matchup set for Saturday. The other was expected to be Kentucky-Arizona, a meeting of two of the bluebloods who feature some of the best freshmen in the country.
But Arizona seemed to forget that Deandre Ayton, the Pac-12 player of the year and a first team All-America candidate, was in the paint, going long stretches without putting the ball inside to the 7-1, 250-pound Bahamian who might be the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft. Ayton finished with just 14 points, on 13 shots, also grabbing 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, four Buffalo players scored in double figures, led by Wes Clark’s 25 and Jeremy Harris’ 23.
The Bulls also out rebounded Arizona 32-31.
No one knows what is next for Arizona coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats are expected to losing their entire starting five to graduation and the pros, and currently have no commitments. They are also embroiled in an FBI scandal that has been the No. 1 talking point all season in Tucson.
As for Buffalo, it’s clear what’s next — a meeting with Kentucky, and a shot at the Sweet 16.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.