After scoring 85 points against Oklahoma State on Friday, No. 8 Gonzaga figured to be a stiff challenge for Arizona's defense, which has looked like the best in America for much of the season.
Well, someone forgot to tell the Wildcats to play along.
Sean Miller's top-seeded squad held the Zags to 40.7 percent shooting and forced an absurd 21 turnovers, running out to a no-nonsense, comprehensive 84-61 victory to book the final spot in the Sweet 16.
ESPN Stats & Info explained the win in historical terms for Arizona and Miller, who will join brother Archie (Dayton) in the next round:
Arizona: reaches Round of 16 in consecutive years for 1st time since 2001-03— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 24, 2014
With the regional semifinals now officially set, SNY.tv's Adam Zagoria and d1scourse.com's Patrick Stevens took a look at the makeup of the final 16 squads:
Assuming Arizona holds on, the Big Ten, Pac-12 & SEC will each have 3 teams in the Sweet 16. American & Big 12 w/ 2 each.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 24, 2014
R/16 by AP preseason rank: 1 (Kentucky), 2 (Sparty), 3 (Louisville), 6 (Arizona), 7 (Michigan), 10 (Florida), 18 (UConn), 20 (Wisconsin) ...— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) March 24, 2014
... 22 (UCLA), 24 (Virginia), 25 (Baylor), 26 (Tennessee), T-38 (Stanford). No votes: Dayton, Iowa State, San Diego State.— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) March 24, 2014
As is often typical with this team, the defense led to offense. The 'Cats scored 31 points off turnovers (Gonzaga had two off Arizona's six turnovers), as freshman phenom Aaron Gordon led the way with 18 points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals and countless highlights in transition.
However, Utah Jazz radio announcer David Locke was impressed with more than Gordon's unreal athleticism:
Aaron Gordon plays a stunningly smart game for a freshman. Always in right place, plays angles, sees lanes.— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) March 24, 2014
Gonzaga coach Mark Few made a bold claim about Arizona to Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated:
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said "the Arizona team we saw tonight was as good of a team as we have faced, that I can remember" as head coach.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) March 24, 2014
The win for the Wildcats sets up a rematch with San Diego State, who they knocked off 69-60 at Viejas Arena back in November.
Andy Glockner isn't sure that SDSU's offense, which—outside of Xavier Thames—struggles to score consistently, is ready for a 'Cats defense that has stifled opponents all year:
Little nervous thinking about SDSU's "Dark Territory" offense getting a second crack at this defense.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 24, 2014
After Sunday's performance, which held Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and Sam Dower to a combined 19 points, it's pretty clear that there aren't many teams in the nation ready for this Wildcats pack-line defense.
After a slow start against Weber State in the second round, Arizona was ready to go from the opening tip.
The Zags had leads of 2-0 and 4-2, but that was the last time they would be in front, as the Wildcats built a 13-6 advantage in the opening four minutes and had extended that to 20-11 by the under-12 TV timeout.
Pangos returned from an early injury scare to his ankle to knock down a three, but the Wildcats punched right back with an 18-6 run.
This was highlighted by consecutive possessions that saw Gordon knock down a three and then hook up with National Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson for a half-court alley-oop seconds later:
Johnson scored an inefficient 17 points on 16 shots, but found other ways to contribute with five rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks.
ESPN's Paul Biancardi explained the difference between Johnson and Gordon:
Arizona's @Air_Zona13 is one of the best two way players in the nation. Gordon is Zona's best player but Johnson their most important one.— Paul Biancardi (@PaulBiancardi) March 24, 2014
By the time the Wildcats entered the locker room with a 47-34 lead, Rush the Court's Andrew Murawa noted that over 40 percent of their offense had come off Gonzaga's 11 giveaways:
Arizona 19 points off turnovers, but just 8/25 from field in the halfcourt game.— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) March 24, 2014
The second half was more of the same.
Gonzaga continued to give the ball away, the Wildcats—who can get stagnant offensively if forced into the half court—continued to get into transition and the lead only continued to grow. Eleven points is the closest Mark Few's team would get in the second half, with Arizona leading by about 20 for the majority of the final 15 minutes.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein summed up the effort from Arizona:
Championship level performance tonight by Arizona. Wildcats were razor sharp on both sides of the floor. Advance to play San Diego State.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 24, 2014
As a team that also prides itself on defense and has an electric scorer in Thames, the Aztecs present an interesting challenge for Arizona on Thursday night (10:17 p.m. ET) at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
But if the Wildcats play like they did on Sunday, there is no one in the country that is beating them.