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No. 1 Arizona downright disruptive in convincing win over No. 8 Gonzaga

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No. 1 Arizona has been one of the best defensive teams in the country all season long, and that’s just one of the reasons why Sean Miller’s team is one of the favorites to win the national title. Against No. 8 Gonzaga that defense was on full display, with the Wildcats making life incredibly difficult for the Bulldogs’ scorers in their 84-61 victory. As a result Arizona will make its second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, taking on No. 4 San Diego State in Anaheim next week.

Gonzaga shot 40.7% from the field, but the biggest problem for the Bulldogs was the turnover count. Gonzaga turned the ball over 21 times, with a number of those miscues were of the live-ball variety. And given Arizona’s athleticism and ability to get out in the open floor when the opportunity presents itself, as they were able to convert those turnovers into 34 points on the night.

In their three games prior to Sunday the Wildcats forced an average of just nine turnovers per game, which is lower than the 12.6 turnovers per game that opponents are averaging on the season. The Wildcats were highly disruptive against Gonzaga, and it was clear during the first half that the Bulldogs were going to have a tough time dealing with Arizona’s athleticism and aggression on the defensive end. Kevin Pangos (12 points) and David Stockton (ten) combined to score 22 points but fellow guard Gary Bell Jr. failed to score, and forward Sam Dower scored just seven points on 3-for-12 shooting.

Offensively the Wildcats were balanced, with freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leading five players in double figures with 18 points apiece. Those two were all over the stat sheet, with Gordon contributing six rebounds, six assists and four steals, and Hollis-Jefferson supplementing his scoring effort with five rebounds, five assists and four blocks. Arizona knew where it wanted to get its shots, shooting 49.2% from the field, and they assisted on 24 of their 32 made field goals with just six turnovers.

If there’s a concern for Arizona with an eye towards San Diego State, which is a different team now than it was in November due primarily to the emergence of Dwayne Polee Jr., it would be the rebounding. Gonzaga rebounded 36.4% of its missed shots and out-rebounded Arizona by 12 on the night. Part of that was a product of Gonzaga’s poor shooting, but the Wildcats will have to be better at finishing their defensive stops against an SDSU team that does a solid job of attacking the offensive glass.

Arizona’s a different team as well, with the rotation having properly adjusted to the loss of forward Brandon Ashley. And if the Wildcats continue to defend at the level that they’re capable of, Arizona’s going to be a very tough team to beat moving forward.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.