Analysis: Poor shooting dooms Wildcats in big matchup against Gonzaga
Saturday night marked the matchup everyone in Tucson had been waiting for all season, bringing the No. 6-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to McKale Center in a matchup of arguably the two best programs on the West Coast.
A back-and-fourth first half saw the Zags take a 35-34 lead at halftime, with a Joel Ayayi layup at the 16:02 point of the second half giving Gonzaga a 47-45 lead that they never gave up again, going on to win 84-80.
Despite a furious late-game rally that saw Arizona trim a 16-point lead to just 2 in the closing seconds, the Wildcats were unable to overcome a night of poor shooting that saw them shoot below 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range.
A rough night for their point guard, a potential newcomer taking things in and a potential fashion decision highlighted the night inside McKale Center.
December is typically a happy month for people, as the holiday decorations and ornaments seem to put a little extra cheer in the air.
It has probably felt equivalent to getting a lump of coal in your stocking for Nico Mannion.
Dealing with back soreness most of the month, Mannion has shot 25.4 percent (14-55) from the field and 20.8 percent (5-24) from 3-point range. His two toughest games have been against the only two ranked opponents on the schedule so far, going 3-14 in a loss to Baylor and 3-20 in the loss to Gonzaga.
“He’s healthy,” Sean Miller said following the Gonzaga loss. “He definitely had an off-night. He had a lot of shots that he’s gonna make and he’s already made, but didn’t go down tonight. For a young guy, he shouldn’t shoulder the blame of this loss.”
Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji has arguably been Arizona’s best player this season, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
He has done so with alternating between two distinct hairstyles, and the results show it might be best to let his hair go free.
Nnaji has played four games this season with his hair up in a man bun, and eight without. In the four games with (Omaha, Baylor, Penn and Wake Forest), the big man has averaged 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting. In the other eight, he has averaged 18.6 points on 76 percent from the field.
Big Game Hunted
Arizona has played two ranked opponents this season, dropping both games to Baylor on the road and Saturday night’s loss at home.
Playing a team such as the Wildcats typically means a much higher intensity level from their opponent, and it has shown, especially on defense.
The Wildcats have shot a combined 33.8 percent (44-130) from the floor and 20.8 percent (10-48) from 3-point range in the two losses, by far their worst two-game stretch at any point this season.
“In our team’s case with kind of what we’ve gone through, we just have a lot of new things,” Miller said. “It’s a big game. This group playing in that big game, I think of a guy like [Corey] Kispert, this isn’t the only big game he’s been in. Where our team could end up and where we are today could be a much higher place — it’s up to us to get there though.
Former Georgetown guard and Arizona target James Akinjo took in the action as part of an official visit to Tucson this weekend.
Akinjo was named Big East Freshman of the Year last season for the Hoyas, averaging 13.4 points and 5.2 assists per game. He considered Arizona before ultimately committing to UConn, until a coaching change eventually ended with him landing at Georgetown.
His numbers through the first six games this season were almost identical to his numbers from a year ago, posting averages of 13.4 points and 4.4 assists per game before deciding to transfer, one of four former Hoyas to transfer from the program this season.
Following their loss to Georgetown today, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim didn’t exactly give the most glowing review of Akinjo.
"They got rid of a guy that wouldn't pass the ball to anybody and just shot every time. That's why they're good now," Boeheim said. “Patrick [Ewing] can't say that but I can. He lost two games for them by himself.”
Akinjo is reportedly also considering St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and Oregon.
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