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Vintage NCAA Tournament: Meet the 2003 Arizona Wildcats

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The dreaded second-round No. 1 matchup.

Luke Walton talks to Lute Olson Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Welcome to the second round of the vintage NCAA Tournament. On Saturday, at 4:00 pm PT, we will be watching one of the all-time Gonzaga NCAA Tournament classics, the 2003 contest against the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs drew the dreaded No. 8 seed, meaning they have to face off against a No. 1 seed in the second round. Even more unlucky for Gonzaga, they drew the Arizona Wildcats, that team that has been the best throughout the entire year.

The Wildcats spent just six weeks out of first place. Arizona only lost three games on the season, although surprisingly in the opening round of the Pac 12 Tournament. None of that mattered though, cause the Wildcats are one of the, if not the best teams in the nation this season.

Meet the opponent

Arizona Wildcats, 26-3

The Wildcats boast the highest-scoring offense in the nation, averaging 85.2 points per game. They have five players in double-figures, led by senior guard Jason Gardner at 14.8 points. Sophomores Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye each chip in around 13 points, and senior forwards Luke Walton and Rick Anderson chip in just under 11.

Arizona plays one of the quicker paces in the nation and they get a lot of good shots. Walton averages 5.1 assists per game and is one of the best passing big men in the nation. With the seniority down low and the talent on the wings, the Wildcats punish you if you double out, and they’ll punish you if you don’t.

What to watch out for

Don’t try and outrun Arizona.

It just isn’t going to work. Mark Few has always loved his high/low game, and when you have players of Ronny Turiaf and Blake Stepp’s caliber, you run with that. That said, if the Zags get caught in a sprinting match, they are not going to be able to keep up. The Zags have played some very good teams very closely this season. They only lost by eight points to the other No. 1 seed Kentucky Wildcats. If Gonzaga plays the game of their life, they have a shot.

Blake Stepp needs to (prepare for this one) step up.

Stepp is the leading scorer on this squad. The Zags will only go as far as he can take them. In the first round against Cincinnati, the Bearcats harried him into just 2-of-8 shooting and five turnovers. Stepp is averaging 18 points per game. The Zags will need all of those 18 points, plus more, if they want to be able to pull off the win.