When the Gonzaga Bulldogs announced that it would be starting a home-and-home series with the Arizona Wildcats, the reaction was essentially nothing but elation. Lute Olsen built Arizona into a powerhouse and Sean Miller is continuing the rich tradition at the school. The Bulldogs had successfully secured one of the better teams in college to a huge matchup.
Throughout history, the Wildcats have had the Bulldogs' number, owning the series record at 4-1. That record comes with an extra painful bite as two of Arizona's wins have come during the NCAA Tournament -- both times as a No. 1 seed.
This year, Gonzaga has a chance to change the narrative on the history between the two schools. It'll be the first time the two teams have faced each other while both ranked in the top 10. If you go by Ken Pomeroy's ratings, it isn't quite Duke vs. Wisconsin, but it has intrigue. Arizona is currently ranked No. 7 and Gonzaga is ranked No. 11.
It would be nice to get a win here, because basically that would punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. But on a more history encompassing level, when you think of games against Arizona, it goes from one nice win to a lot of painful, bad losses. Let's take a look at what has happened between the two schools before we turn attention to what will happen on Saturday.
Dec. 17, 2011: Gonzaga 71, Arizona 60
Gonzaga's lone win over Arizona came when the Bulldogs were pulling some great matchups at the Battle in Seattle. This was a great game to watch in front of a huge crowd -- just take a look at the win expectancy chart courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
Gonzaga jumped out early and was in control for much of the game. It was also the least illustrious of matchups, as far as rankings were concerned. Neither team was ranked at the time. Arizona would eventually miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time in two years since Miller took over head coaching duties. For Gonzaga, it was a great all around game led by Elias Harris. Harris scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds. The freshman backcourt duo of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell were largely forgettable, combining to go 3-for-20 (and 1-of-13 from three point range) for 17 total points.
Nov. 29, 2000: Gonzaga 87, Arizona 101
Things didn't go so well for the Gonzaga Bulldogs in this game, but not a lot of people probably expected them too. Arizona was ranked No. 5 at the time and had future NBA players Gilbert Arenas, Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson on the court. Arizona was hosting a little WCC swing at home, so as bad as it was for Gonzaga, at least they were twice as good as Saint Mary's -- literally. Saint Mary's would fall to Arizona three days later, 101-41.
Dec. 14, 2008: Gonzaga 64, Arizona 69
This was a tough pill to swallow. Arizona was trying to navigate basketball without Lute Olsen for the first time in a long while. Gonzaga opened the season with seven-straight wins and were ranked No. 4 before falling to Arizona. Jordan Hill led Arizona with 22 points and Nic Wise added 21 in a game that Gonzaga had tied down to the final minute. The loss stung at the time, and would sting much later as the season progressed. Gonzaga had downed the likes of Oklahoma State, Maryland, Tennessee and Indiana before the loss. The Arizona game would mark the first of what would soon be four losses in five games -- those losses including the overtime collapse against Connecticut at the Battle in Seattle as well as a loss at home to Portland State.
March 23, 2014: Gonzaga 61, Arizona 84
This game is recent enough its not like a lot of attention needs to be paid. Gonzaga pushed past Oklahoma State in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament only to run into a defensively dominant No. 1 seeded Arizona team. The results weren't pretty as 21 turnovers peppered throughout the game ensured that Gonzaga was dying a slow and painful death in 2014. Realistically, the game probably hurt less than the loss in 2008 because only the fantastically delusional actually expected Gonzaga to win the game. Most everyone else was hoping for a competitive showing and that went missing as well. It wins out on the ugly tag, however, because losses in March are always the worst losses.
March 22, 2003: Gonzaga 95, Arizona 96 (2 OT)
Out of all of the Gonzaga games I have watched throughout my life, this one ranks as one of the most entertaining, even considering the fact that the Bulldogs came out on the wrong end. The No. 9 Bulldogs had no business hanging with the No. 1 Wildcats. The 2003 Wildcats ranked No. 4 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings behind an even offensive and defensive attack. They had players like Channing Frye, Luke Walton and Andre Iguodala on the team. Arizona spent much of the season as the consensus No. 1 team that year. Gonzaga had a bit of star power with Blake Stepp and Ronny Turiaf to shoulder the offense, but the Zags played defense that year like a wet piece of rice paper.
Yet, somehow, against all odds, the Bulldogs kept with the Wildcats. They kept keeping with the Wildcats. Blake Stepp hit huge threes to force overtime. Tony Skinner had one of the most wild, leaping put backs to keep the Bulldogs plugging along. In the end, it all came down to Stepp, who after playing 47 minutes just didn't have enough left in the tank and bricked his final shot to let Arizona barely gasp away with the win.
This game was a total roller coaster and the force that Stepp bricked his final shot was the force of the gut punch. Gonzaga was *this* close to pulling off the biggest upset in school history and fell centimeters short. In the grand scheme of things, it was hardly an ugly loss. But looking back on it, and looking back on the replay, man does it sting.