SAN DIEGO — If you believed in omens, maybe it wasn’t a good thing when an official had to gently coax Gonzaga’s starting five out of its huddle just before tipoff here in an NCAA round-of-32 basketball game against Arizona.
The Zags were also slow to respond through a thoroughly forgettable first 15 minutes, falling behind by 21 points, and saw their 2014 season end with a resounding thud against the Wildcats, 81-64. Arizona moves on to Anaheim to play San Diego State Thursday night, and the Zags exit their season at 29-7.
Down 47-34 at half, Gonzaga still had a wan hope, having trailed by as many as 21. But they quickly took themselves out of it with two turnovers in the first 34 seconds after intermission, and Arizona bumped the lead back to 59-38 within seven minutes.
Gonzaga had hoped to neutralize the top-seeded, board-pounding Wildcats and match offense for offense against a team that often doesn’t shoot it that well. And if GU could hang with Arizona into the second half, perhaps the Wildcats would begin to feel the weight of validating that No. 1 seed.
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But Arizona was never made to feel tight, primarily because Gonzaga was (a) terrible with the ball in the first 15 minutes, and (b) its interior defense was far too leaky.
At the half, Arizona had 17 baskets and Gonzaga was getting killed by the athletic UA starting forwards, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But front and center of the myriad Zag problems was their turnovers, and the transition that created for Arizona.
Gonzaga committed the first 11 turnovers of the game, and the Wildcats cashed them in for 19 points, including multiple easy baskets in transition. Remarkably, not until 15 seconds was left in the half did Gonzaga force an Arizona turnover, when David Stockton picked off a perimeter pass and closed the first half-scoring with a fast-break layup to make it 47-34 Arizona at the break.
Zag starting guards Stockton, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combined for seven first-half turnovers, and most of them turned into scores at the other end.
Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson each had 12 points at halftime.
In a mishap reminiscent of the ankle problem suffered last year by Bell in GU’s loss to Wichita State, Pangos went down in a heap trying to score in the lane with 15:29 left in the first half and went to the locker room. But he returned at 11:51, seemingly unhampered, and proceeded to drain three treys before intermission to keep Gonzaga from falling off the map.
Gonzaga was trailing 28-18 when matter really grew dire. Nick Johnson whistled in a three from the left wing, igniting a 15-4 Arizona run that included a three by Gordon — who shoots only .325 from distance — plus a reverse jam by the gifted freshman.
The GU deficit grew to 43-22 and Arizona looked capable of putting up 60 halfway through. But Gonzaga found a pulse, scoring seven straight on a slam by Przemek Karnowski, a fast-break bucket by Kyle Dranginis and a Pangos three to keep it vaguely interesting.
Karnowski’s matchup with Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski only materialized sporadically, as Karnowski had two fouls just inside the 12-minute mark and Tarczewski’s first-half minutes totaled only 11.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com