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Pac-12 forges on with NCAA tournament survivors Arizona, UCLA, Utah

NCAA tournament: Pac-12 Conference has three teams left, second only to Atlantic Coast Conference

Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona center, looks at who's left in the NCAA basketball tournament and sees three Pac-12 Conference teams still in play.

"It's nice to see some familiar faces," Tarczewski said.

Arizona guard Gabe York added: "People are always talking about the Pac-12 being soft compared to other leagues. My whole thing is, this is when it really matters. March is what a team plays for."

Arizona, which meets Xavier in a West Regional semifinal game Thursday, is part of a Pac-12 contingent that is second only to the Atlantic Coast Conference in numbers.

The ACC has five teams remaining, but other so-called power conferences are struggling to hang on. The Big Ten and Big 12 conferences both had seven teams in the 68-team tournament field. Only two from each remains.

Meanwhile, Pac-12 teams have won seven of eight games. Only Oregon is out. The Ducks lost to Wisconsin, the West's top-seeded team, in a hotly contested third-round game.

UCLA, which did not rate a spot in the tournament according to some analysts, faces Gonzaga in a South Regional semifinal game on Friday. Utah meets Duke in the same regional.

"We probably didn't get as much credit, maybe, as we deserved as a whole," Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.

Six Big East Conference teams received bids, but Xavier is the only one still playing.

"I would have bet a dollar to a doughnut that [Big East champion] Villanova would have been standing this week," Xavier Coach Chris Mack said. "But that's how the tournament works sometimes."

Tarczewski said he hoped the Pac-12's performance would create a different impression nationally.

"It's really important for our conference to be looked at as a power conference," Tarczewski said. "I think the past three years I've been here we've had some great teams. It's really good that people are realizing that and giving us recognition."

California dreamin'

Miller called Los Angeles, where Staples Center is the host of the West Regional, "the footprint of our conference."

The Wildcats have stalled here before. Arizona has failed to advance the last five times it has come to Southern California for a regional. The Wildcats were defeated in overtime by Wisconsin in the regional final at Honda Center last season and lost by three to Ohio State at Staples Center two seasons ago.

"I just think it's a weird anomaly," Tarczewski said. "

York pointed out that "we've lost to some very, very good teams. We were there at the finish. It's not like we we're losing by 20 to 30 points."

Familiar foe

The Arizona-Xavier game is a coaching matchup between old friends: Miller of Arizona and Mack of Xavier.

Miller coached Xavier from 2004 to '09, with Mack as one of his assistant coaches.

Miller reached out by sending Mack a text message.

"It just said he was excited to see my wife and kids and completely pushed me to the side," Mack said. "Then I saw him here about 15 minutes ago and caught up with him."

Now comes the challenge of beating the Wildcats, who have lost just three times all season.

"We don't have to be better than Arizona for five months," Mack said. "We have to be better than Arizona [on Thursday] night for 40 minutes."

Game management

There are times during the NCAA tournament where the flow of the television commercials gets disrupted by basketball.

It doesn't happen enough for North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, whose team plays Wisconsin on Thursday. He was asked his thoughts on those lengthy media timeouts.

"You think it's long for fans, it's even longer for coaches," Williams said. "What the heck am I supposed to say for two minutes and 25 seconds?"

Asked what he does with the time, Williams said he spent it "making television people and officials mad. I send my team back onto the court. They tell me, 'Keep them on the bench, keep them on the bench, it looks bad.'"

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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