Despite a late push in the final minutes from Arizona's men's basketball team, the Wildcats were severely outplayed in the second half Saturday night and ultimately fell 84-80 against No. 6 Gonzaga at the McKale Center.
This is Arizona’s second loss of the season, both of them coming against AP top-25 teams and they were games Arizona very well could have won — if it wasn’t for some atrocious shooting. Even though the final stat line will show Arizona made eight threes, they went most of the game struggling from three.
Arizona was led by Josh Green with 17 points, and Zeke Nnaji, who had 16 points and 17 rebounds. Nico Mannion had his worst game of the year with only seven points on 3-20 shooting, but he did have 10 assists. Despite the bad shooting, Arizona was able to stay in the game because they won the rebounding margin and had fewer turnovers than Gonzaga. But it still wasn’t enough.
Head coach Sean Miller was worried earlier in the week about Arizona coming out slow and playing from behind most of the game, but they did just the opposite in the first half. They quickly jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first five minutes, making the fans inside McKale go crazy.
“I feel like the way we started the game with the great atmosphere and really good start to the game on our end, and we really came out playing well,” Miller said.
The two teams were going up back and forth and playing very physical basketball. But then, about midway through the half, the referees started blowing the whistle on almost every possession, changing the momentum of the game. Gonzaga was able to claw their way back and ended up leading at half.
Gonzaga’s head coach Mark Few has been there for 20 years and his teams are the same almost every year. They use skilled and experienced big men year-in and year-out until tonight, and that’s what Miller thinks the difference was in this game — especially in the second half.
“Tonight, they didn’t really play how they usually do,” Miller said. “They went smaller for longer periods of time, and when they played Kispert at the four, it really change[d] a lot and it forced us to go smaller, and we just aren’t as advanced or ready with that group as they are. I wish we were.”
Another big reason the Wildcats lost was because of how poorly they shot all night. They only shot 38% for the entire game but made their final couple of shots to make the score closer than it really should have been.
With 1:30 left, Arizona was down 81-65 and fans started heading home, but a Dylan Smith three followed by a Jemarl Baker Jr. three quickly made it a 10-point game, and there was hope. Gonzaga kept missing free throws and Arizona kept getting quick points. The score got down to 82-80 with two seconds left and Gonzaga at the free throw line. The fans that were left made all the noise they could, but Ryan Woolridge calmly knocked down both attempts and there wasn’t enough time left for Arizona to come back.
“If we take anything out of the game, we didn’t give up at all,” Green said. “We were down 12 points at the end and it showed how hungry our team is. Obviously, we didn’t come out on top, but we came out fighting.”
Arizona will now have a week off before they travel to San Francisco to take on St. John’s University on Saturday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. at the Chase Center.