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Originally published March 22, 2014 at 7:07 PM | Page modified March 22, 2014 at 7:42 PM

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Gonzaga-Arizona matchup recalls 2003 NCAA tournament classic

Seattle Times staff reporter

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SAN DIEGO — In Gonzaga’s grand plan for the round-of-32 game Sunday night with Arizona, the Zags would hang with the Wildcats, get them thinking about how big the moment might be, about the prospect of falling as a No. 1 seed.

They would have a chance as they did in 2003, when the two met in Salt Lake City in identical circumstances — top seed versus a No. 8 — with Arizona ultimately prevailing in a double-overtime screamer, a 96-95 victory that merited a year-end Sports Illustrated retrospective and occasional play on ESPN Classic.

The game was remembered so well that GU coach Mark Few says they still have a photograph of the action in their basketball office, without apology.

“Even in a loss,” 2003-04 center Richard Fox said Saturday from Spokane, “it was a pretty remarkable game to be a part of. You take lot of pride in being able to participate in something like that.”

Gonzaga guards Tony Skinner and Blake Stepp scored 25 points each, playing 50 and 47 minutes, respectively, at altitude, while Channing Frye and Jason Gardner both had 22 for Arizona.

“People forget how good that team was,” Fox said, referring to Arizona. Good enough that two future NBA players, Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams, came off the bench for the Wildcats.

Gonzaga’s office photograph is of Stepp, whose leaning, would-be-winner 8-footer against Salim Stoudamire missed to end it.

Few said a couple of weeks ago he got a nighttime text from coach Sean Miller of Arizona, a friend, who was catching the game on ESPN Classic. Now they get a chance to play it again.

Raining ’Cats, ’Dogs

The game will pair two programs that will soon become used to one another. Gonzaga is due to play in Tucson next season, and two years later, the Zags will play host to Arizona at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“Sean was trying to say this counts as one of the games,” Few said jokingly, referring to the heavy Arizona fan contingent here. “I guess this counts as a home game for them.”

Romar shout-out

Aaron Gordon, Arizona’s prize freshman forward who was recruited hard by Washington, had lavish praise for Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar, saying he’s “one of the all-time good guys on this earth.”

As for Gonzaga, Gordon said: “They’re real disciplined. I just hope our guys are ready to guard for 40 minutes straight.”

Dower hour

Sam Dower Jr., Gonzaga’s leading scorer at 14.6 a game, had just three points in the victory here over Oklahoma State, his lowest output since he went scoreless in seven minutes against Saint Mary’s on Jan. 2 in a ginger return from a back injury.

Dower figures to be a key against the potent Arizona forwards. Said Few, “Sam rarely has back-to-back days where he doesn’t play well.”

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281


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