The Arizona Wildcats will renew a bit of a rivalry Sunday when they take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs Sunday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona, a one seed, got to this point by knocking off No. 16 Weber State 68-59 Friday, whereas Gonzaga, an eighth seed, beat No. 9 Oklahoma State 85-77.
The last time these teams played was in 2011, when Gonzaga topped NIT-bound Arizona 71-60 at KeyArena in Seattle, Wash.
Some players from that game are still around, but make no mistake, these are very different teams. And unlike that early season non-conference game, there is quite a bit at stake in this one.
It’s a tournament rematch of one of the more epic games in the dance’s history, when in 2003, No. 1 seed Arizona outlasted No. 9 seed Gonzaga in a 96-95 2OT win.
Now, just as it was then, the winner Sunday will advance to the Sweet 16. Tipoff in San Diego is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on TBS.
New Mexico State
• Dec. 7 – Gonzaga 80, New Mexico State 68
What was a close game through 20 minutes turned into a comfortable win for the home team as Sam Dower’s 22 points led the way for Gonzaga. Gerard Coleman scored 21 off the bench, and the Bulldogs hammered the Aggies 45-30 on the glass.
• Dec. 11 – Arizona 74, New Mexico State 48
The Wildcats got off to a slow start but started to pull away late in the first half, only to continue the onslaught in the second. Brandon Ashley led the Wildcats with 15 points, while Kaleb Tarczewski added 14, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 12 and Aaron Gordon 11. Arizona held New Mexico State to just 32.6 percent shooting from the field while making 51.8 percent of their own field goal attempts.
Keys for Arizona
Cut off the snake’s head
Junior guard Kevin Pangos is Gonzaga’s leader, and his 26 points, three rebounds and three assists against Oklahoma State were a reminder of just how good he can be. It will probably be up to Nick Johnson to defend him. The Pac-12 Player of the Year hounded Weber State’s Davion Berry into a 5-for-20 shooting performance Friday, and if he can shut Pangos down like he’s done many other top guards this season, the Wildcats have a strong shot at coming away with the win.
Everyone knows the Wildcats are not a particularly deep team and that foul trouble could turn into a major issue for them. Well, Friday they were whistled for 20 fouls, which led to 23 free throw attempts for Weber State. That’s too many.
Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, especially, cannot afford to get into foul trouble, given that Gonzaga’s leading scorer — Sam Dower — is a 6-foot-9, 243-pound beast down low. There isn’t much behind Arizona’s starting bigs, so having to turn to the bench for significant minutes could spell doom for the West’s top seeded team.
Keep raining threes
Well, sort of, as Arizona is at its best when it is working the ball down low too. But that becomes significantly easier when the ‘Cats are making shots from the outside, which they did Friday in making 7-of-14 three-point attempts.
Gabe York, who hit a pair of threes in the game, needs to continue shooting with confidence, and Nick Johnson, who made four of his six attempts from deep, must continue to score for Arizona. The Wildcats are not a great offensive team, at least on a consistent level. But success from the outside opens things up down low for Tarczewski and Gordon; and when that happens the offense goes from shaky to excellent.
Keys for Gonzaga
Dominate down low
Sam Dower scored just three points on 1-of-5 shooting against Oklahoma State. Given Arizona’s success at defending guards, he’s going to have to do better than that Sunday evening. He averaged 15 points per game during the regular season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t.
Send Aaron Gordon to the line
By now everyone knows about Aaron Gordon’s struggles from the free throw line. The freshman made just 43.5 percent of his attempts during the regular season and connected on just one of his four tries Friday. His talent and athleticism allow him to get to the rim almost at will, and it would behoove the Bulldogs to turn those trips to the hoop into trips to the line.
Basketball is a simple game: Make shots, and chances are you are going to win. For their part, the Wildcats excel at preventing others from making said shots, limiting opponents to 37.9 percent shooting during the season. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, specialize in putting the ball in the basket, which they did at a 49.8 percent clip. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’ll find out.