SAN DIEGO -- Here are five observations from Arizona’s 84-61 win over Gonzaga in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday night at Viejas Arena in San Diego:
Aaron Gordon is ridiculous: Yes, the freshman is a highlight machine. In the first half of Sunday’s win, he hit a 3-pointer and on his next possession, he caught a reverse alley-oop. It all seemed so easy for the 6-foot-9 forward. But those weren’t necessarily his most impressive feats. Those came on defense. How many 6-foot-9 forwards can guard a point guard like Kevin Pangos? Well, Gordon (18 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals) did that on multiple possessions. Gordon’s versatility has been vital in Arizona’s run to the Sweet 16. The program’s future was somewhat cloudy after it lost Brandon Ashley for the season due to a foot injury he sustained in early February. Gordon, however, has given the Wildcats an extra push. He’s a special player.
Arizona can win it all: Yes, you know that already. The Wildcats are the last team standing in many brackets, and they’re just as dangerous as Florida and the other contenders right now. They proved that this weekend. They’re still No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy data. They have size and athleticism and they’re capable of competing against any style. The biggest concern for the Wildcats was the possibility that the Zags would come out firing 3-pointers and stretch the floor. But Arizona was tough on Pangos & Co. but didn’t neglect their interior defense as they held the Zags to a 40 percent clip from the field. On offense, they just attacked the rim. They’re relentless and talented enough to win the national championship in Arlington, Texas.
Game says more about Arizona than Gonzaga: So, Mark Few might face questions about his legacy after this loss. This is a program that hasn’t made an Elite Eight run since 1999, and the Zags haven’t advanced to the Sweet 16 since 2009, but Sunday’s loss shouldn’t be used to critique the state of the program or Few’s tenure. Gonzaga is a good team that lost to a squad that might be better than every program in the country right now. There’s a strong chance that any remaining team would have fallen in Viejas Arena on Sunday. The Wildcats shot 49 percent against a Gonzaga team that was ranked top 20 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency numbers. They outscored the Zags 48-28 in the paint and recorded 31 points off their opponent’s 21 turnovers. That’s ridiculous.
Nick Johnson’s leadership: T.J. McConnell and Johnson are the leaders on this team. McConnell seems to lead by orchestrating Sean Miller’s offensive and defensive schemes. Johnson obviously helps with that, too, but he’s also the vocal leader for this team. He’s surrounded by young guys, and throughout his team’s two wins in San Diego, you could see him talking to his teammates and reassuring them. That might seem trivial, but many programs would love to have a player who leads with voice and his game.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson matters: The freshman isn’t hidden anymore. But his standout performance against Gonzaga (18 points, five rebounds, five assists, four blocks and a steal) was another reminder of how important he is to this team and its NCAA national title hopes.