SAN DIEGO -- Arms waving and legs churning, the Arizona Wildcats are racing back into the Sweet 16.
Overwhelming Gonzaga with its contest-everything defense, Arizona looked very much like the top seed in the West, blowing out the Bulldogs, 84-61, on Sunday to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years.
Coming off a shaky NCAA tournament opener, Arizona (32-4) ended a wild first weekend of upsets and buzzer beaters with a display of domination.
This was not the epic double-overtime game these teams played in the 2003 NCAA tournament. This was an eye-popping display of what one of the nation’s best teams can do when it gets rolling.
The Wildcats overran Gonzaga (29-7) with their size, athleticism and quick hands to blow the eighth-seeded Bulldogs out of the bracket.
Arizona scored 31 points of Gonzaga’s 21 turnovers — 15 on steals — and never gave the Zags a chance after racing out to a 21-point lead in the first half.
The rest of the bracket should take notice: If the Wildcats play like this, they’re going to be awfully tough to beat.
Next up for Arizona is fourth-seeded San Diego State — a team it beat in this same arena early in the season — in the Sweet 16 just up the coast in Anaheim.
Aaron Gordon had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists for Arizona. Fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also had 18 points and Nick Johnson finished with 17.
Przemek Karnowski scored 14 points and Kevin Pangos added 12 for Gonzaga, which hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2009.
Arizona was jittery in its opener against Weber State, starting slow and allowing the Wildcats from Utah to claw their way back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to make it close.
The first-game anxiety out of their system, the Wildcats played with confidence and plenty of energy against Gonzaga, sprinting up the floor after steals and defensive rebounds to set up easy shots in transition.
Arizona made it look easy at times, dropping off passes for layups, flying in for alley-oops and spotting up for three-pointers on the break.
It was so good even Gordon, whose outside shot has been questioned, dropped in a three-pointer. For good measure, he went in for what seems to become his signature move on the break, soaring up for a reverse dunk on an alley-oop from Johnson to put Arizona up 38-20.
Gonzaga shot well against one of the nation’s best defenses — when it could get shots off.
The Bulldogs struggled with Arizona’s they’re-everywhere defense, playing catch-up on the break as the Wildcats snared passes and stripped dribblers for eight steals in the first half. Gonzaga had 11 turnovers that Arizona turned into 19 points for a 47-34 halftime lead that would have been more if the Bulldogs didn’t make a late run.
Arizona had one turnover and 13 assists on its 17 field goals — 34 attempts — with Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson combining to hit eight of nine shots while scoring 12 points each.
The second half started like this: two possessions by Gonzaga, two turnovers.
Arizona kept the show going from there.
Johnson had the defensive highlight of the half, track down David Stockton to block what appeared to be a breakaway layup and the ball when off a Gonzaga player, to boot. The offensive reel was highlight by Gordon, who soared in for a rebound slam over two Gonzaga players