“We could not guard them,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller after his second-seeded Wildcats were upset by No. 11 Xavier last night. One imagines that he was talking specifically about Xavier junior guard Trevon Bluiett.
Bluiett scored 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, but even those plainly impressive numbers don’t do his performance justice. Bluiett scored 18 of those points in the first half, making six of seven shots and singlehandedly keeping Xavier in the game. Arizona won many games this year on the strength of its stifling perimeter defense, but all those long arms out on the wing couldn’t do anything to stop Bluiett from scoring whenever and wherever he wanted.
His first-half highlight reel featured everything you could possibly want from a scoring guard: a fearless transition bucket; a deep step-back jumper; a few spot-up threes; and a pair of rumbling, how-did-he-flip-it-in-from-that-angle? drives to the hoop.
Bluiett’s scorching half left Xavier down by just two points as they headed into the locker room, and when Arizona made what should have been a decisive run late in the second half, Bluiett was there to help get Xavier back in the game.
Arizona’s own stud shooting guard, Allonzo Trier, went on a 15-0 run all by himself in the second half, and the Wildcats had a 69-61 lead with under three minutes to play. At that point, Bluiett had scored just once in the half, and the game seemed to be taking a familiar shape. How many times have you seen an underdog start strong only to be run off the court as soon as the favorite flexes a little muscle late in the game?
But with his team down eight and the game getting out of hand, Bluiett made his biggest shot of the night, a three from the right corner that brought Xavier’s nearly four minute scoring drought to an end. The Musketeers were suddenly back in it, and a minute later Bluiett was hitting two free throws to tie the game at 71. Another minute later, Bluiett found Sean O’Mara under the basket with a deft little pass from the top of the key. O’Mara scored, and Xavier won 73-71.
Bluiett is scoring 25 points per game in the tournament, and shooting an unbelievable 52 percent from the field. There are a lot of different ways an 11-seed can go about advancing to the Elite Eight, but few Cinderella formulas are as satisfying to watch as the one Xavier is currently enjoying. They’re giving Trevon Bluiett the ball and getting out of the way, and he’s taking care of the rest.