SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The Musketeers had given it a real go. They had been unstoppable on the offensive end and crafty enough on defense, and they were typically relentless on the boards. They had played Arizona even for 32 minutes, something few teams had managed this season. They had acquitted themselves well. But now Allonzo Trier was cooking, and Kadeem Allen had hit a 3-pointer, and the shots had stopped falling. Arizona had opened up a 69-61 lead with 3 minutes, 45 seconds to play, and, hey, great run, and now it was time to go home.
Xavier knocked off No. 2 Arizona 73-71 on Thursday. Xavier will play in the Elite Eight.
We should have known better, huh?
If the past few weeks have taught us anything about the Musketeers, it is that nothing is as simple as it appears. A team that lost six games in a row in February and early March, that didn't know for sure it was getting in the NCAA tournament until its name was (the very last!) called on Selection Sunday, that upended Maryland and then throttled No. 3 seed Florida State -- why would that team fade away?
Why would Xavier, despite all appearances to the contrary, suddenly decide to acknowledge the existence of its own ceiling? Why would the Musketeers start acting as if their past three weeks have been anything other than normal?
Because of a measly eight-point margin in the final four minutes against a 32-4 Pac-12 regular-season and conference tournament champion? Pfft. Not likely.
"It's no surprise to us," star guard Trevon Bluiett said. "This is no Cinderella, or whatever you call it. This is no underdog. It's just us going out and playing."
That's the thing: The Musketeers aren't self-conscious about this postseason run. They don't feel out of place. They aren't embracing the role of the plucky underdog, soaking up the warm-and-fuzzies accorded to March's typical Cinderella tales. Why would they?
Sure, there is the matter of that No. 11 seed, and the most-pertinent truth that the Musketeers, unlike, say, Wisconsin, weren't under-seeded on Selection Sunday. When coach Chris Mack tweeted his Selection Sunday wish -- "Next time, someone leak the brackets, please ... #LastTeamCalled" -- the Musketeers had suffered that anxiety for good reason.
Six straight losses in February had shattered their previously solid resume and chucked them into the bubble fray. When they knocked off Butler in the Big East tournament that weekend, the win was regarded less as the start of a brand new chapter and more a desperate attempt to reclaim what had been lost.
Too simple, of course.
Behind closed doors, and away from the prying eyes of fire safety officials, Mack and his staff had his team literally burn the month of February out of existence, and collected the ashes in a jar. The Musketeers needed to "turn the page," as Mack has said so often since, and so they went ahead and burned the page while they were at it.
More than that, though, Xavier had a much larger sample size of success to pull from than any one month could provide. Many of the current players were key pieces of last season's No. 2-seeded team; a group that entered 2016-17 ranked seventh in the Associated Press preseason poll.
Guard Edmond Sumner's season-ending injury and Bluiett's nagging maladies had contributed to a listless month, but so what? These were still players who had expected to contend for a national title, still led by one of the best coaches in the country (one Arizona coach Sean Miller said "had his way with us" Thursday night), still playing at a program with a decade's worth of frequent Sweet 16 appearances.
"We stuck together," J.P. Macura said. "We're all tough guys. We stuck together."
That reclamation project got its latest, and perhaps its most impressive, addition Thursday night. Xavier survived Arizona's pull-away run, just when Trier, with help from Allen, looked set to blow the game wide open. Bluiett led the way with 25 points, Macura chipped in a huge tip-in as Xavier made its late move, and forward Sean O'Mara, a little-used reserve big experiencing a full-on March renaissance, contributed some of the most crucial plays on both ends down the stretch.
Arizona might have had a chance but failed to land a foul on the Musketeers as they dribbled out the clock, and Miller could do nothing more than walk to midcourt and congratulate his former assistant on a great win. Another great win, to be more precise, and another Xavier surprise to add to the collection, from a team that refuses to act like any of this is in any way surprising.
"We're not backing down from anybody," Macura said. "And if you have that mentality, you can beat a lot of teams."