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Deandre Ayton can start preparing for the NBA draft. The 13th-seeded Buffalo Bulls ended the fourth-seeded Arizona Wildcats’ tourney run early with a 89-68 win in first-round action in Boise, Idaho.
The MAC champion pulled off the biggest upset of the tourney thus far on the strength of stellar performances from Jeremy Harris and Wes Clark. The two guards spearheaded a shooting performance that included 15 Buffalo threes.
It was a disappointing effort from Ayton, who is expected to be a top NBA draft pick this summer, and the rest of the Wildcats. Sean Miller’s team was disjointed on offense and allowed the Bulls to shoot 54.8 percent from the floor.
While Arizona was effective on offense when it was aggressive, the same couldn’t be said for the defense. The Wildcats were outright passive at times, and it didn’t go unnoticed:
Dan Wolken @DanWolken
Really embarrassing how little effort Arizona expends in transition D and half court.
Alex Gold 99.1 ESPN Boise? @AlexGold
Buffalo has a 49-46 lead on Arizona with 16:25 to play. Arizona’s defense is awful.
Perhaps even more frustrating than the overall effort from the talented Wildcats was the perplexing disappearance of Ayton from their offense. Despite the difficulty the Bulls had guarding him, Arizona didn’t feature him nearly enough at times. Lindsay Schnell of USA Today noted the lack of the star center in the offense:
Lindsay Schnell @Lindsay_Schnell
Update: Deandre Ayton, maybe the best player in college basketball, has 9 points. He has taken 8 shots.
Rob Dauster @RobDauster
There is nothing that Arizona does more consistently and effectively than forget about the fact that they got the big fella on their roster. Give the rock to Deandre Ayton.
Instead, the Wildcats had a little too much Allonzo Trier in the mix. Trier was not shy about shooting the ball, even if he was inefficient from the field, going 4-of-15 from the floor, including 0-of-5 from downtown.
Scott Phillips @phillipshoops
Deandre Ayton averaged 32 and 16 the final 2 games of the Pac-12 tournament. 10 FG attempts the first 32 minutes against Buffalo. Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier are 6-22 and 1-9 from 3-point range during that span.
The Bulls established they weren’t going to go away quietly from the opening tip. Buffalo rode the efforts of Harris and Missouri transfer Clark to a combined 27 points in the first half to give the MAC champions a 40-38 lead at halftime.
It wasn’t hard to see where the players were getting their confidence from, per Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports:
Reid Forgrave @ReidForgrave
Buffalo head coach Nate Oats during halftime interview, his team up 2 on Arizona: “We think we’re the better team.”
Harris was aggressive as a slasher and shooter for the Buffalo offense. The JUCO transfer got his 23 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and made clutch play after clutch play as the Bulls built their improbable lead:
NCAA March Madness @marchmadness
Jeremy Harris is FEELING IT as the Bulls take a commanding lead! ??? #MarchMadness https://t.co/fN0ukdr6p5
Clark was efficient from the field while playing the role of floor general. He racked up seven assists to go with his 25 points (10-of-14 shooting) in 33 minutes.
But even more important was Clark’s role as a leader on a team that clearly wanted to make its mark on the tournament. The Bulls’ energy and passion on the floor clearly won over Twitter:
Brian Snow @BSnow247
Buffalo is at minimum playing twice as hard as Arizona right now
David Gardner @byDavidGardner
Buffalo is emptying its bench. The absolute disrespect. I don’t like it. I love it.
Buffalo will now look to extend its Cinderella run against the No. 5 seed Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday. After this performance, it’ll certainly be a game circled on fans’ calendars.