#1 Arizona Wildcats vs. #8 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Date: Sunday, Mar 23, 2014.
Location: Viejas Arena, San Diego, Calif.
Time: Approx. 6:40 PST p.m.
Gary Bell Jr.
Death, taxes, and Mark Few and the Bulldogs advancing past the first round in the NCAA tournament. In Few’s 16 years of coaching the Bulldogs, they have made it to the big dance in every single season. Out of those 16 NCAA appearances, the Bulldogs have won their first round matchup 13 out of those 16 appearances. Losses to Wyoming (11 seed) in 2002, Indiana (seven seed) in 2007 and the Stephen Curry led Davidson Wildcats (10 seed) in 2008 are the only examples of opening losses for the Bulldogs.
The latest first round success for Few and Bulldogs came against Oklahoma State. The Zags led the whole game and defeated the Cowboys by a score of 85 to 77. Gonzaga’s hot shooting from 3-point range (50 percent) is what ultimately propelled them over the ‘pokes.
Up next for Gonzaga: the one seed in the West Region, Arizona.
The Wildcats will be far and above the best team the Bulldogs will have played all season. Arizona was atop the AP poll for eight weeks this season and its lowest total ranking was six.
Nick Johnson had a phenomenal year, one that many people did not even think he has capable of having. Johnson was the Pac-12 player of the year after the season after he led the Wildcats to a regular season title and averaging 16.3 points, 2.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds.
Arizona is loaded with weapons on its roster. Freshman Aaron Gordon is 6’9”, super athletic and can play on the perimeter, making him a matchup nightmare. Point guard T.J. McConnell is the ‘Cats primary ball handler, and leads the team in assists with 5.5 per game. He also features a very solid assist-to-turnover ratio with 3.0.
Freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could also give GU fits. He is a long and lengthy player who is an elite defender for the ‘Cats. He is credited for doing a lot of U of A’s dirty work, such as picking up hustle plays and rebounds.
Gabe York is the Wildcats 3-point specialist. He is a threat to hoist up a trey ball from almost anywhere on the court. York shot 39.6 percent on 139 total attempts this season.
Last but not least, Kaleb Tarczewski is Arizona’s skilled big guy. He has had to pick up some slack after Brandon Ashley went down with a knee injury in February, but has stepped up big time and is playing arguably his best basketball of the season now.
These are the averages of all of Arizona’s starters, just to give you an idea of what each player brings to the table:
T.J. McConnell – 8.3 PPG 3.7 RPG, 5.5 APG
Nick Johnson – 16.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.7 APG
Gabe York – 6.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.6 APG.
Aaron Gordon – 12.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 APG
Kaleb Tarczewski – 10.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.5 APG
Why Gonzaga will win:
The Zags already knocked out an extremely talented team in Oklahoma State, why can’t they do it again with the Wildcats?
Gonzaga’s hot shooting is what ultimately will allow them to top Arizona. The Bulldogs are filled with 3-point shooters and the Wildcats will have trouble accounting for all of them. Either Kevin Pangos, Drew Barham, Kyle Dranginis, Gary Bell Jr. or Sam Dower will have a field day from beyond the arc to aid in GU’s upset victory. As a team, Gonzaga will match or come very close to matching the 50 percent clip they shot at from 3 in their opening round matchup.
Why Gonzaga will lose:
While the Zags played well against a talented team inOSU, the Cowboys’ bigs do not compare to ‘Zona’s.
Przemek Karnowski was able to impose his will for most of the game against OSU, creating a lot of extra opportunities for his teammates. Against Arizona, Karnowski will be matched up with Kaleb Tarczewski, who is much more of a formidable foe than anyone OSU threw out against the sophomore center.
Arizona’s combination of depth and talent will eventually be too much for the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga looked like it was out on a mission against Oklahoma State, and prevailed over the Cowboys despite Dower playing one of the worst games of the season. Dower will play up to his standards and the Bulldogs ride their hot shooting into Anaheim. Gonzaga 69, Arizona 66.