LOS ANGELES — Sometimes the other guy is so good that you leave the gym aware you could've gone no further. Bad draw, bad luck, bad day to be a Wildcat.
Arkansas' Corliss Williamson scores 29 points in the Final Four, scoring inside with little difficulty. You go home without tears, 1994.
Utah's Andre Miller has an unprecedented triple-double, 18 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists - a career day among career days - and you exit the Elite Eight minus a worthy excuse, 1998.
But someday you are so good, when least expected, that the other guy goes home in a puddle of tears.
The 34-1 Kansas Jayhawks, whose only smudge on the schedule is a two-point, overtime loss at Missouri, can't solve Arizona's speed, committing 20 turnovers, the most unexpected of all upset victims of 1997.
Only once since the madness of the '90s have I thought Arizona had no chance in the NCAA tournament, booking a flight home for the morning after the game, alerting the hotel staff that I would not require additional nights to cover the Elite Eight.
That was 2011 in Anaheim. Duke was 32-4. Derrick Williams, a latter day Corliss Williamson, scored 25 points in the first half. The Dookies went home instead.
One bad idea about March basketball: booking unrefundable airfare.
On form, you would not think Arizona has much of a chance to beat Ohio State today.
The Buckeyes have two things the Wildcats do not: a go-to scorer, Deshaun Thomas and a shut-down defender, Aaron Craft.
The Buckeyes have won 10 straight and only two of those were remotely close. This is their fourth consecutive Sweet 16. Travel brokers in Columbus, Ohio, have surely made plans to make a small fortune ferrying Buckeyes fans to the Final Four in Atlanta next week.
Tucson travel agents are day-to-day.
But this is an especially tough call because the coaches, Thad Matta and Sean Miller, bring their best stuff in March.
Matta and Miller have an identical winning percentage in the NCAA tournament, .687, which is Coach K territory. Matta is 22-10; Miller is 11-5. These guys do not blink; their teams have responded to the late-season drama.
No game more typifies the beguiling aspect of today's theatrics than the 2007 Xavier-Ohio State NCAA Tournament game in Lexington, Ky.
Matta's Buckeyes, 31-3, were significant favorites. Miller's Xavier team, 25-8, had lost to Rhode Island, Duquesne, Bucknell, St. Louis and St. Joseph's.
"With about seven minutes to go, our point guard, Drew Lavender, hits a step-back three to give us a (55-44) lead," UA assistant coach James Whitford, then on the Xavier staff, remembers.
"Thad looks down the sideline, trying to make eye contact with Sean, but Sean's looking in another direction. Finally, I make eye contact with Thad. He sort of gives me a palm's up, 'We're done,' shrug.''
Xavier played the game of its life. An unlikely Musketeer, Justin Cage makes every shot he takes, 8 for 8, and scores a career-high 25 points.
"We did some remarkable things,'' Miller said Wednesday. "We played at a very high level.''
And yet the Buckeyes were not done, forcing overtime on an unforgettable three-point basket with 2.3 seconds remaining. Ohio State absorbed Xavier's absolute best effort and won 78-71.
There could be similar variables at work today. Arizona needs to play its best game, and then some.
Analysts say that to beat the Buckeyes you must limit All-American forward Deshaun Thomas but that is not so.
In Ohio State's seven losses, Thomas averages 24.1 points. In its wins, he is averaging 19.2 points. He is the given. He is going to get his points no matter how well Solomon Hill plays defensively.
The way to beat the Buckeyes is to stop their other guys from shooting well. That's it. KenPom.com knows it and Miller knows it.
The Buckeyes shoot .382 when they lose and .473 when they win. Their opponents shoot .486 when they win and .377 when they lose. It's all about shooting percentages. It's all about making sure Lenzelle Smith Jr., Sam Thompson and LaQuinton Ross don't beat you.
Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft, a Doberman of a defensive player, isn't likely to yield 25 points to Mark Lyons, or even 15. Arizona will have to find another way to get points.
But perhaps more important, is to make sure Craft doesn't score 18 as he did last week against Iowa State.
Craft is a .431 shooter who was limited to .323 in OSU's losses. He missed 19 of 26 three-point attempts when the Buckeyes lost. Don't let him beat you with a three-pointer in the last ticks.
A week ago against Iowa State, Craft swished the game winner with one second remaining. It was his only three-pointer of the game and just his fifth in 10 games.
Against Ohio State, do not give the Buckeyes the last shot nor anything but your best shot.
The hotel clerk is holding Arizona's reservations just in case.
Contact Greg Hansen at email@example.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711.