SAN DIEGO (AP) – If the Arizona Wildcats are just warming up, then the rest of the West region could be in big trouble in the NCAA tournament.
The top-seeded Wildcats ran the eighth-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs out of Viejas Arena on Sunday night, winning 84-61 to advance to the regional semifinals up the freeway in Anaheim.
”Tonight was one of our season’s best performances,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ”Obviously, you want to play well in the NCAA tournament and that’s exactly what our team did tonight.”
Arizona (32-4) reached the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. It advances to play fourth-seeded San Diego State, which it beat by nine points in Viejas Arena on Nov. 14.
The Wildcats were shaky in beating 16th-seeded Weber State on Friday.
Not so against the Zags. Arizona was unstoppable on both ends of the court.
Aaron Gordon had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists for Arizona. Fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also had 18 points and Nick Johnson finished with 17.
”What we did today was push the tempo,” Gordon said. ”We noticed they weren’t getting back as well as they should and we just kept that going throughout the game.”
Arizona scored 31 points off Gonzaga’s 21 turnovers – 15 on steals – and never gave the Zags a chance after racing out to a 21-point lead in the first half.
”That Arizona team we saw tonight was as good a team as we have faced, that I can remember,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ”It was just too much for us tonight.”
Przemek Karnowski scored 14 points and Kevin Pangos added 12 for Gonzaga (29-7), which was making its 16th straight NCAA tournament appearance. It hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2009.
”We didn’t do ourselves any favors,” said Pangos, who kept playing after turning his ankle early in the game. ”We let them feel pretty good about themselves. But they are a good team and they did speed it up a little bit.”
Gordon hit everything from a 3-pointer to a reverse dunk on an alley-oop from Johnson to put Arizona up 38-20.
Johnson also had a defensive highlight when he caught up to David Stockton and blocked a potential breakaway layup.
In Sunday’s other game in San Diego, UCLA reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in six seasons, a big step in the right direction for a program whose tradition was tarnished in recent seasons.
The Bruins beat Stephen F. Austin 77-60 in a South region game.
The fourth-seeded Bruins (28-8) will play Florida, the tournament’s overall top seed, in the South Regional semifinals on Thursday in Memphis.
The Bruins don’t want to stop there.
”We’ve had a good overall season, but our work isn’t done,” sophomore forward Kyle Anderson said. ”They don’t hang Sweet 16s up in Pauley.”
No, they don’t. Expectations are always high in Westwood because of the 11 national championship banners hanging in Pauley Pavilion, the first 10 coming under John Wooden and the last one coming in 1995.
”It’s a tough turn-around for us and we’re going to play arguably the best basketball team in the country right now, but it’s good to see us back in that mix and back in that discussion,” said first-year coach Steve Alford, who has won as many NCAA tournament games in three days as the Bruins had in the previous five seasons combined. ”That’s what’s been a lot of fun.”
Alford replaced Ben Howland, who was fired a year ago after the Bruins lost to Minnesota in their NCAA tournament opener. This is UCLA’s first trip to the regionals since Howland got the Bruins to their third straight Final Four in 2008.
Florida beat UCLA in the national championship game in 2006 and in the national semifinals the following season. The Gators also eliminated the Bruins in the second round in 2011.
Jordan Adams scored 19 points, Norman Powell had 16 and Anderson had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Stephen F. Austin (32-3), the No. 12 seed, was held to 35.1 percent shooting (20 of 57) and had its 29-game winning streak snapped. The Lumberjacks hadn’t lost in exactly four months.
Thomas Walkup had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Lumberjacks, while Desmond Haymon had 17 points and Nikola Gajic added 10. Haymon’s four-point play sent the Lumberjacks into overtime against fifth-seeded VCU on Friday night and SFA won 77-75.
The Lumberjacks hadn’t lost since Nov. 23, a 66-58 defeat at East Tennessee State. After Wichita State lost to Kentucky to have its 35-game winning streak snapped, SFA’s 29-game streak became the nation’s longest, for about 3 hours.
”I’ll say what I told the team – I couldn’t be prouder,” coach Brad Underwood said. ”We didn’t have a great year. We had a year for the history books. … A 29-game winning streak, they don’t know how good that really is. That’s very, very special.”
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