Star freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were simply too big, strong, skilled and athletic for the Gonzaga Bulldogs to matchup with. The two future pros combined to shoot 13-17 from the field, grab 11 rebounds and hand out 11 assists as the Wildcats dominated the mid-major powerhouse 84-61. Hollis-Jefferson also had four blocks, while Gordon had four steals – all while playing less than 30 minutes (23 for Gordon, 27 for Hollis-Jefferson). The Wildcats surprisingly had trouble on the glass, getting beat by 11 on the boards while giving up 11 second-chance opportunities. They made up for it, though, with a stingy defense that forced 21 turnovers and held Gary Bell Jr. scoreless just after a 17 point effort against Oklahoma State. Their victory sets the stage for a Sweet 16 rematch against the San Diego State Aztecs, a team that they have already defeated this year. In that game Nick Johnson scorched them for 23, while Aaron Gordon came up just shy of a double-double with 16 points and eight rebounds in a 69-60 victory. That was way back on November 14, though; both teams have changed a lot sense then. The Wildcats still have Brandon Ashley in the lineup at the time, although his wasn’t huge as he had just six points and six rebounds while only playing 25 minutes due to foul trouble. The formula for success remains the same for the Wildcats: take care of the basketball and crash the glass hard. If they do those two things, they’ll get one more step closer to Dallas, Texas.
San Diego State Aztecs
Coming into the tournament the North Dakota State Bison were viewed as one of the most explosive teams in the field. A trendy pick to go on a Cinderella run, they put up an impressive 80 points in their opening round upset of Oklahoma, a win that solidified their status as one of the dark horses to fear in the Big Dance. However, the Aztecs’ defense had little trouble bringing their explosive offense to a near halt as they allowed only 15 made field goals in a 63-44 win. A big key was keeping TrayVonn Wright on the bench for half of the contest with foul trouble. The Bison were significantly less effective without their top scoring, meanwhile the Aztecs’ top option Xavier Thams erupted for a game-high 30 points. He also handed out a team-high five assists. The Aztecs finished the game +11 on the glass against the Bison. Rebounding is going to be very key for them against the Wildcats, whose frontline is far more imposing that the Bison’s to say the least. This is a rematch of a game that the Aztec lost back at the beginning of the season. The Wildcats’ have a little bit less size on the frontline now than they did then, but they’re still quite big and physical. If the Aztecs can take away quality looks out on the perimeter, force some excessive turnovers and limit the amount of second chance opportunities that they allow, the outcome could be different. Thames will also have to be more efficient than he was in the first game when he needed 16 shots to score 19 points.
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