No. 6 Gonzaga looks for first win in McKale Center against young Arizona Wildcats
TUCSON, Ariz. — Gonzaga is in the middle of its toughest stretch of the season, with 15th-ranked Arizona in McKeon Pavillion up next in a battle of two west coast powerhouses.
Mark Few has gotten the better of Sean Miller in the last two meetings, but the Wildcats own the overall record at 6-3.
The Zags moved up to No. 6 in the AP Top-25 after a gritty win over an athletic Washington Huskies team in Seattle. Gonzaga took the lead three minutes into the game and never let it go, but still needed some deep threes late in the game from Killian Tillie and Joel Ayayi to win 83-76.
With a win over Arizona, the Bulldogs would be 3-0 over Pac-12 teams this season, after their win over No. 11 Oregon (at the time) in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
For as inexperienced as Gonzaga was coming into the year, Arizona is younger. A trio of freshmen lead them in scoring, the centerpiece being 6’11 Zeke Nnaji at 16.6 points per game and over six rebounds. Nico Mannion averages 15.9 points a game at guard, and Josh Green puts in 12.5 per game.
What’s most impressive about the freshman forward in Nnaji is his efficiency. He’s shooting nearly 72% from the field.
How will Gonzaga choose to defend him? If you double him, he’s proven to be a fantastic passer out of it, finding his frontcourt mate Chase Jeter. The Wildcats are coming off their first loss of the season to the No. 18 (at the time) Baylor Bears, who took a 63-58 win in Waco, Texas.
One of the most notable statistics is how they limited Nnaji to just six shots on the night, of which he made three and added a couple free throws to score 12 points. Baylor also held Mannion to just 3-14 shooting.
The Bears are the most comparable opponent for the Wildcats to what Gonzaga will look like. Mark Few crafted a good-enough defensive gameplan to limit Washington’s athletic frontcourt (Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels) to 36 points combined. With mainly one giant 6’11 threat down low, you have to favor the Bulldogs in this one.
Arizona also shares the ball well. Mannion has made 27 field goals in the last three games, but has assisted 38.
Where Sean Miller knows he is at a disadvantage is the glass. Gonzaga averages over 12 offensive rebounds a game, and his young squad ranks 107th in the nation when it comes to defensive rebounding.
“It’s the weakness of our team and when you play a team like Gonzaga, who’s very good at getting second shots, they can really win the game and break your back when they can get those big second shots. there’s no bigger key for our team on Saturday than to keep those guys off the offensive glass.”
Filip Petrusev will get the most one-one-one time against Nnaji, but they also need the Serbian to dominate a freshman on offense. Petrusev leads the Zags in scoring and rebounding at 15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg.
It would be nice to see freshman Anton Watson at 100%, because he clearly was not against the Huskies in his limited minutes as he’s recovering from an ankle sprain. He is without question Gonzaga’s most versatile defender.
Getting Admon Gilder back to full health would be helpful, as he pairs well on defense with Ryan Woolridge to take care of the two freshman guards.
McKale Center will be packed, as students are still around for finals. This will be another ruckus atmosphere for the Zags in Tucson, expect to see a high-scoring affair as both teams rank in the top-20 KenPom offensive efficiency. Gonzaga sits at sixth, with Arizona at number 15 in terms of points scored per 100 possessions.
TIp-off in Tucson is Saturday, December 14th at 7 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
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