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.