No. 6 Gonzaga Holds off No. 15 Arizona's Late Challenge for Win

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 15, 2019

Gonzaga guard Admon Gilder (1) drives around Arizona guard Jemarl Baker Jr. in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The No. 6 Gonzaga Bulldogs continue to excel against ranked opponents after Saturday's 84-80 victory over the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center. 

Against opponents currently ranked in the Coaches' Poll, head coach Mark Few's team is now 3-1 this season. All three of those victories have come against Pac-12 opponents Oregon, Washington and Arizona, the latter two of which were true road wins for the Bulldogs. 

Gonzaga really hit its stride coming out of halftime, scoring 49 points and having at least one offensive rebound on four consecutive possessions midway through the second half to build a cushion that stuck for the win. The Bulldogs had four players score in double-figures, including three starters. 

Arizona missed a golden opportunity to earn a marquee win thanks to a poor all-around effort. The offense came to life late in the second half to make the final score closer than it appeared when the Wildcats were Freshman star Nico Mannion really scuffled, shooting 3-of-20 from the field in the loss. 

Notable Game Stats

  • Corey Kispert (Gonzaga): 18 points, 8 rebounds
  • Filip Petrusev (Gonzaga): 16 points, 7 rebounds
  • Admon Gilder (Gonzaga): 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
  • Nico Mannion (Arizona): 7 points, 10 assists
  • Josh Green (Arizona): 17 points, 3 rebounds
  • Zeke Nnaji (Arizona): 16 points, 18 rebounds

Resilient Bulldogs Earn Marquee Victory

Playing on the road against a ranked opponent for the second time in a week would have made it easy for Gonzaga to suffer a letdown.

The Bulldogs started the game flat and found themselves trailing 16-7 after six minutes with no answers for what Arizona was doing offensively.

ESPN Australia & NZ @ESPNAusNZ

Josh Green goes up and gets it against Gonzaga 😤💪 https://t.co/8Fge1nnb1k

Eventually Few was able to get his team to settle down, thanks in large part to an improved effort on the defensive end.

The Wildcats entered this game shooting 51.2 percent overall and 40.6 percent from three-point range. They were held to 38.5 percent and went 8-of-30 from behind the arc. It didn't help that their offense was content to settle for threes seemingly every time the ball was brought up the court:

Cody James Martin @CodyJamesMartin

Unless Arizona starts hitting the threes it is set on taking each possession, Gonzaga is going to cruise

Once Gonzaga's defense came alive, the offense followed suit in the second half. It went on a 12-0 run starting at the 16:27 mark to open up a 54-45 lead. 

Mark @MarkLawson_1

Gonzaga is in the midst of a 12-0 run as Arizona hasn’t made a field goal in almost five minutes. Bulldogs mixing in some zone on defense this half and UA continues to settle for jumpers. 54-45 Gonzaga, 12:24 left.

Earlier this week, Jon Rothstein of the New York Times noted Gonzaga has remained successful this season despite losing four starters from last year's 33-win team and all five starters scored at least 10 points against Washington.

Doug Gottlieb @GottliebShow

Gonzaga has to be the greatest “Upset” in college sports history- not a flash in the pan. 20 years of sustained success at a small private school in Eastern Washington. Hell North Carolina is playing in SpokeVegas Wednesday

That balance was once again on display against Arizona, allowing the Bulldogs to continue their dominance against Pac-12 opponents and make a statement heading into another big game against North Carolina in four days. 

Poor Shooting Costs Arizona in Spotlight Game

The overall shooting was alarming for Arizona in defeat, but individually, it was shocking to see how much the players struggled to find a rhythm against Gonzaga's defense. 

Mannion has been scuffling of late, shooting under 30 percent three times in the past four games. Entering Saturday, he ranked second on the team with 14.9 points per game, but this marked his second-lowest scoring output of the season.

Jason Scheer @JasonScheer

I've seen Nico Mannion for a long, long time. He's never shot it this bad in his life. Just missed a layup. Shame it had to happen tonight and he's going to get killed for it.

Ryan Kelapire @RKelapire

In Arizona's losses to Baylor and Gonzaga, Nico Mannion shot a combined 6 for 34 from the field.

If the Wildcats hope to get in the national title conversation by the time the NCAA tournament rolls around, Mannion will have to start playing more consistent basketball. He's shown strong playmaking skills with 6.2 assists per game. His shooting just has to catch up to his passing ability. 

On those nights when Mannion isn't at his best, the Wildcats need to be able to depend on their other guards. Dylan Smith and Josh Green didn't hold up their end of the bargain by shooting a combined 9-of-26 from the field. 

Zeke Nnaji was the only Arizona player who played up to his full potential. The freshman forward posted his third double-double of the season and first since Nov. 28 against Pepperdine. 

This game was a clear indication that Miller's team has a lot of work remaining if it hopes to be thought of among the national elite. It isn't there yet, but the talent is in place to make it happen with the Pac-12 schedule about to start in January.


What's Next?

Gonzaga will wrap up its three-game set against ranked opponents on Dec. 18 at 9 p.m. ET when No. 17 North Carolina visits McCarthey Athletic Center. Arizona will wrap up its nonconference schedule on Dec. 21 at 10 p.m. ET as it hosts St. John's.