SAN DIEGO – It began smoothly enough with post-up baskets by Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower Jr. on Gonzaga’s first two possessions.
But the mistakes came next and Gonzaga couldn’t stem the flood of turnovers. Each one, a pass into traffic, a fumble on the perimeter, put Arizona into overdrive toward the other end of the court.
Gonzaga turnover, Arizona basket. It was the story of the first half and ultimately the game as the opportunistic Wildcats rolled to an 84-61 victory Sunday in front of 11,504 at Viejas Arena.
The eighth-seeded Bulldogs (29-7) were bounced out of the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season in the round of 32. Top-seeded Arizona (32-4) advances to face No. 4 San Diego State in Anaheim on Thursday.
“We allowed them, in a lot of ways, to play so great and look so great with just a ridiculous amount of turnovers,” coach Mark Few said. “One of the reasons we had 29 wins is we took care of the basketball.
“The other reason we had 29 wins is we’re pretty smart with our shot selection, that’s why we shoot a high percentage. We got a little sped up, we tried to do too many things early and we weren’t very strong with the ball. They got out, dunked and ran like that, and offense becomes easy for them.”
GU’s last three run-ins with No. 1 seeds have resulted in Sunday’s 23-point loss, an 87-65 loss to Syracuse in 2010, and a 99-78 setback to eventual national champion North Carolina in 2009.
The Bulldogs committed a season-high 21 turnovers – their previous high was 16 – leading to 31 Wildcats’ points. The Wildcats had one turnover in the first half and six for the game.
“I think jitters got the best of us early,” said guard David Stockton, who finished with 10 points, six assists and five rebounds, but also committed six turnovers. “We turned it over a ton in the first half and it’s hard to recover from that.”
Gonzaga’s slow start turned more problematic when Kevin Pangos went down with a sprained left ankle with 15:40 remaining. While Arizona was scoring at the other end, Pangos remained on the floor and then was helped to the sideline by Few and trainer Jen Nyland.
“Exact same thing (as two previous sprains of his left ankle),” Pangos said. “I don’t know if it’s the accumulation of all three but this one hurt really bad.”
Pangos returned after a few minutes. He promptly set a hard screen and drained a 3-pointer. He added two more first-half 3s, but the Zags couldn’t stop the run of turnovers.
A bad pass by Stockton led to two free throws for Gabe York. A fumbled pass sent Aaron Gordon flying in for a layup. Kyle Dranginis’ turnover became a Nick Johnson dunk.
Gonzaga’s largest deficit this season was 17 against Portland. Arizona had the Bulldogs in a 40-20 hole with 6:20 remaining in the first half.
“They’re definitely the best team we’ve played this year,” said Dower, who struggled with seven points on 3-of-12 shooting in his final game as a Zag.
The Zags closed with a 12-4 spurt to pull within 47-34 at half – Arizona’s lead built off a 19-2 edge in points off turnovers. GU trailed by 11 early in the second half, but Arizona pulled away with a 10-0 run.
“That’s a heck of a defensive team,” Few said, “but I was just as impressed with what (Arizona coach) Sean (Miller) has done offensively with them. He’s got them in the right spots and for having some guys that are non-shooters they don’t buy into taking bad shots.
“They had a nice plan for our gap defense. They were cutting guys behind us, which we haven’t seen this year, and it was really effective. Again, you have to have a special kind of athlete to be able to do that.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon often worked the baseline en route to their combined 36 points. Johnson added 17 points.
Karnowski led Gonzaga with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Pangos made four 3s and scored 12 points.