Updated to note that the UA-Gonzaga game has been set for approximately 6:40 p.m. PT on Sunday. It will tipoff about 30 minutes after UCLA or Tulsa faces Stephen F Austin at 4:10 p.m. PT.
SAN DIEGO – Kevin Pangos had 11 points and eight assists when Gonzaga beat up Arizona 70-61 in the “Battle in Seattle” during the 2011-12 season.
A few things have changed since then.
Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are starters returning from that team, while Sam Dower and David Stockton have risen to starters – and Arizona has turned from an NIT-bound team that season to a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed.
“There’s a lot of different guys now,” Pangos said.
After Gonzaga beat Oklahoma State 85-77 on Friday, Pangos said the Wildcats were “obviously talented” and coach Mark Few agreed.
“The biggest thing that jumps out at me is they have had an awesome year, you know, to take over that No. 1 spot and to hold it for as long of a time as they did…. And dealing with the significant injury to (Brandon) Ashley,” Few said. “I think Sean and his players just deserve a ton of credit for that. They have been so impressive, their defense has been off the charts. …
“It’s impressive with their front line and Nick Johnson has had an amazing year. They’re a No. 1 seed for a reason.”
The Wildcats and Zags will actually be seeing a lot of each other in the next two years. They are scheduled to open a home-and-home series at McKale Center next season, and return the game in Spokane, Wash., in 2015-16.
When they met in 2011-12 it was actually the return game of a two-year deal that had the Zags playing in Phoenix during the 2008-09 season.
Of course, the history between the two also goes back to what is still one of the most memorable games in UA’s NCAA tournament history – a double-overtime UA win in the second round of the tournament.
Sunday’s game will actually be a near-repeat of the scenario between that year’s matchup. Arizona was a No. 1 seed after holding the No. 1 ranking much of the 2002-03 season while Gonzaga was a No. 9 seed (the Zags are an 8 seed this season).
Always quick to spread the credit when things are good and to take the blame when they aren’t, UA guard T.J. McConnell was angry at himself after Arizona hung on to beat Weber State 68-59.
“I thought I struggled,” he said. “But my teammates did a good job of picking me up.”
McConnell was scoreless, shooting 0 for 4 from the field, and had two turnovers to his four assists. He said he also was “lackadaisical” with his defense on one of Weber State’s seven three pointers.
Gabe York was one of those teammates who tried to pick him up.
“T.J. is an emotional person and he cares so much about this team that he wants to play well every single game,” York said. “My whole thing to him was `You’re not going to be the greatest every single game. You have to be able to go through the adversity and that’s what a great player does.'
“If I’m not having a good game, I’m gonna act like I’m OK for the sake of the team. He’s fine. He’s happy we got the win. He’s not a selfish person. But he is upset a little not for selfish reasons, but because he felt he left team down. He puts that much pressure on himself every game. The ball just wasn’t falling for him today but I have no doubt Sunday he’ll be ready to go.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said he didn’t have a problem with Friday’s early tipoff.
“I’m a morning guy,” he said. “I’ve been a morning guy my whole life, always waking up at like 7:30 for high school, always amped up. This is what I live for, man. If you don’t want to play the game then don’t.”
Hollis-Jefferson came in the game with 15:46 left to play in the first half, just when the Wildcats needed the energy most: UA was down 7-0 at that point.
Aaron Gordon was asked about whether the term “survive and advance” was fitting for Arizona against Weber.
“I don’t like the term `survive and advance,’ “ Gordon said. “I like the term `dominate and advance.’ I don’t think we dominated today but that’s our mentality. That’s what we need to have.”
Another way you know standards have reached highs at Arizona: After a nine-point NCAA tournament win,most of the postgame questions were about negatives. What about that early slump? Or the late one? Or free throws?
Nick Johnson was OK with that.
“That’s definitely our standard,” Johnson said. “We felt we could have extended the score a little bit more, gotten a little more stops. We’re not the No. 1 defensive team in the country because we let teams back in the game. We’re trying to do what we do. We just have to play and do what we are, and everything will take care of itself.”
Arizona was just 9 for 16 from the free-throw line (56.3 percent) against Weber State after it went 6 for 16 against UCLA in the final of the Pac-12 championship game. It also was 11 for 19 at Oregon on March 8.
That makes it three out of their last five games that the Wildcats have shot less than 58 percent from the line.
“It’s a complete mental thing,” said Aaron Gordon, who was 1 for 4 from the line. “We’re not making it any bigger than it is. We’re not making it any smaller. We’re just going to go to the line and knock them down.”
Kaleb Tarczewski will face a native of Poland on Sunday in Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, but said before the Zags won that he felt Weber big men Kyle Tresnak and Joel Bolomboy were good preparation for whatever was ahead.
“I think Aaron and I did a good job of containing them today and that helps, the wings helping down and stuff like that,” Tarczewski said. “It gets us prepared and gets us comfortable, kind of gets those jitters out.”
Our full five-person coverage will be posted by midnight on our Wildcats page.