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March 23, 2014

Arizona stuffs Gonzaga, advances to Sweet 16

SAN DIEGO -- Not a bad NCAA tournament debut weekend for Arizona's highly touted freshmen, and now they are off to experience their first Sweet 16.

Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 18 points apiece to lead five players in double figures, and the top-seeded Wildcats dominated in an 81-64 rout over No. 8 Gonzaga in a third-round West Region contest at Viejas Arena.

The duo combined to make 15 of 27 shots for the Wildcats (32-4), who shot 49.2 percent, led by as many as 28 and were never threatened. Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson shot 75.7 percent over their first two tournament games combined.

Arizona collected 15 steals and blocked eight shots, including four apiece by Hollis-Jefferson and Nick Johnson.

"It's a lot of fun," Hollis-Jefferson said. "For my first NCAA appearance, to make it to a Sweet 16, so far, it's pretty good."

Johnson, who scored 17 points, added three steals.

It will be Arizona's fourth trip to the Sweet 16 since 2009 - the third under head coach Sean Miller in five seasons - and 16th appearance in the regional semifinal overall. Waiting at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., next week will be fourth-seeded San Diego State, which lost at home to Arizona in early November, 69-60.

"Tonight was one of our season's best performances," Miller said. "Obviously, we all want to play well in the NCAA tournament, and that's exactly what our team did tonight. We not only beat a really good team in Gonzaga but we beat, more importantly, a great program. Year in, year out these guys are in the NCAA tournament and when you see them in your bracket, it's not a good feeling."

Miller joined his brother, Archie, a former Arizona assistant, in the Sweet 16 after little brother led Dayton to the round in the previous day. Including two trips with Xavier, this is Sean Miller's fifth regional semifinal overall.

After watching its 21-point lead cut to 13 before the end of the first half, Hollis-Jefferson found Gordon on an alley-oop to help restore the advantage to 59-31 with 13:55 remaining.

With less than 11 minutes to play, Gordon swooped in for an offensive rebound and dunked it - all in one motion - to provide the early exclamation point. It was Arizona's size and athleticism Gonzaga was worried about coming in, and there was nothing the Bulldogs could do to neutralize it.

"What we did was just push the tempo," said Gordon, who added six rebounds, six assists and four steals. "We noticed that they weren't getting back (defensively) as well as they should have and we kept that going throughout the entire game."

Gonzaga (29-7), in its 16th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, was bounced in the Round of 32 for the fifth straight year. The difference early was turnovers, and it only snowballed into 21 miscues for 31 Arizona points.

Przemek Karnowski notched a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to pace the Bulldogs, who shot 40.7 percent - including just 8 of 25 after halftime. The 7-1 sophomore's production wasn't enough to withstand the Wildcats' 48-28 advantage in the paint.

"Well, we ran into a buzz saw tonight," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "[Arizona] is an excellent basketball team. They are well coached, and about as good defensively certainly as we've seen in a long time.

"We got beat in pretty much every facet of the game tonight and tip our hats to them. Hope they keep playing that well all the way through."

Like the second-round win over Weber State, it was Gabe York who helped Arizona get going early with seven of the team's first nine points.

But Gonzaga didn't help its own cause, either. The Bulldogs watched their 11 first-half turnovers cashed in for 19 Wildcats points.

Also continuing his strong play in the tournament was Hollis-Jefferson, who made all five of his field goal attempts off the bench in the opener. The freshman opened up UA's first double-digit lead at 22-11 with 11:51 remaining.

Everything was working early for the Wildcats - who didn't commit a turnover until the final minute of the half, made 17 of 34 shots and all nine of their free throws. Among the highlights were a 3-pointer from T.J. McConnell, who was scoreless against Weber State, and a Gordon 3-pointer and reverse dunk off an alley-oop.

McConnell finished with 12 points, six assists and three steals in a bounce-back performance.

"I got to give credit to my teammates," McConnell said, "they made me look good."

With 4:55 left, Gordon then came back with a dunk and completed the ensuing three-point play with a free throw. That put the Wildcats up 43-22 - their largest lead of the half.

But UA scored just four points the rest of the way and Gonzaga capitalized. A pair of Kevin Pangos 3-pointers - the junior made three in the half - and a David Stockton layup over the final 2:21 trimmed the Wildcats' lead to 47-34 at the break.

"The pace of the game was a little faster, but we also didn't do a good job," said Pangos, who finished with 12 points. "We gave them confidence to turn it over and then they got out and ran and it was a highlight-reel. We didn't do ourselves any favors."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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