San Diego, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - A trip to the Sweet 16 is on the line tonight, as the Arizona Wildcats and the Gonzaga Bulldogs confront each other in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at Viejas Arena.
Arizona, the top seed in the West Region and the fourth-ranked team in the country, now has two wins in this building after taking down a spunky Weber State squad in the second round of the tourney on Friday, 68-59. Four months ago the Wildcats, who are now 49-29 in this event over the years, also defeated San Diego State by a score of 69-60 as part of a 21-game win streak to open up the 2013-14 campaign.
As for the Bulldogs, the eighth seed in the region as they take part in the tournament for the 16th consecutive year, they took care of Oklahoma State two days ago in an 85-77 final. The victory was the sixth in a row for a Gonzaga group which won the West Coast Conference Tournament title for the 12th time.
Arizona leads the all-time series by a count of 3-1, although the most recent matchup two seasons ago saw the Bulldogs pull out a 71-60 victory in Seattle. The squads also collided during the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2003, with Arizona surviving a double-overtime affair with a 96-95 decision at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.
The winner this time around advances to contend with a San Diego State squad that defeated North Dakota State on Saturday in a lopsided 63-44 final.
Gonzaga suffered 15 turnovers and shot only 26-of-41 (.634) at the free-throw line, but that still didn't keep the squad from taking the eight-point win against Oklahoma State on Friday. Kevin Pangos led the way for the group with 26 points, followed by Gary Bell Jr. with 17 as he knocked down 3-of-4 shots behind the 3-point line. Przmek Karnowski logged a double-double with 15 points and a team-best 10 rebounds, while Kyle Dranginis pitched in with 12 points off the bench before fouling out. Perhaps most remarkable about the win was the fact that Sam Dower was held to only three points, to go along with nine rebounds and four assists before fouling out.
Dower didn't do much as far as scoring was concerned on Friday, but still he is a valued performer at that end of the floor as he averages 14.6 ppg. Pangos follows with 14.5 ppg, but seeing as how the latter is also second on the team with 3.7 apg, putting the ball in the basket himself is not always his top priority. Add in Bell Jr. (11.4 ppg) and Karnowski (10.3 ppg), and you can see where the bulk of the offense comes from for the Bulldogs.
The Arizona defense held Weber State to just 20 first-half points, just the sort of effort the top-seeded Wildcats needed before the 16th-seeded Wildcats from Ogden, Utah began to heat up in the second half. Nick Johnson knocked down 4-of-6 shots behind the 3-point line as he tallied a team-best 18 points, followed by Aaron Gordon who tallied 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots, with another five rejections coming from Kaleb Tarczewski. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor as he dropped in 13 points, while Tarczewski ended with 10.
One of the better defensive teams remaining in the tournament, Arizona has managed to limit opponents to only 37.9 percent shooting from the field this season, en route to 58.2 ppg, which has allowed the Wildcats to produce a scoring advantage of 14.7 ppg. Johnson shoulders much of the load with his 16.3 ppg, while Gordon checks in with 12.3 ppg and Tarczewski another 10.1 ppg as they continue to fill in the void left by Brandon Ashley (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) who has been lost to injury.