Last year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs took the Arizona Wildcats to overtime before ultimately falling short down in Tucson. This year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are facing a wildly different Arizona Wildcats squad as the Zags look for revenge.
Games against Arizona are an enticing and exciting event. Year in and year out, Arizona is one of the marquee basketball programs in the entire country, and there aren't many better games you can schedule to test your mettle.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the Gonzaga Bulldogs haven't had the mettle. They've come oh-so-close to having that mettle multiple times, but generally speaking, we fall short against the Wildcats. Time for us to finally rewrite the narrative, and what better locale for that than the fine court of Spokane.
Meet the opponent
Arizona Wildcats, 6-1, KenPom #19
Mark Few had a big book on Arizona and it just got sent to the shredder after this past offseason. The Wildcats lost Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley to the pastures of the NBA. The lone remaining member of the starting five, Kaleb Tarczewski, is missing the game due to injury.
So what we are left with is an Arizona team that isn't as good as last year's. That point is relatively trivial, because Arizona is still stellar on defense--it is just the offense that needs a little bit of work.
Senior forward Ryan Anderson has been shouldering the scoring load, averaging a double-double with 16 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. The Boston College transfer is the focal point of the Wildcats offense and an efficient scorer, hitting 51.6 percent of his shots.
Anderson is supplemented by the threat of senior guard Gabe York, the Wildcat's designated three-point shooter. York can be deadly from beyond the arc, but he had a rough go during the Thanksgiving holiday, exemplified by a 1-for-10 effort from beyond the arc against Santa Clara aka Jared Brownridge.
One other name that Zag fans will possibly recognize is Mark Tollesfsen. Tollefsen transferred from University of San Francisco after graduated, and is seeing decent minutes on the Wildcats. Tollefsen had two great games against Gonzaga last season, but both came with losses.
What to watch out for
No Kaleb Tarczewski? Maybe we will raise you a Przemek Karnowski.
Karnowski apparently tweaked his back against Texas A&M, and it didn't manifest itself until the team went to Pullman, where he sat on the bench due to back spasms. With Karnowski on the bench, Gonzaga is a much more different team inside. With Tarczewski on the bench, the Zags have a huge opportunity to exploit a hole on the Wildcats, but Karnowski would be one of the players standing to gain the most. As of Thursday night, Karnowski's availability for the game is still unknown.
Can Gonzaga take care of the ball?
According to Ken Pomeroy, Arizona will be the toughest defensive team we have seen all season. With that in mind, the Zags need to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Kyle Wiltjer and Josh Perkins each average three turnovers a game, and if the Zags are going to have to grind out a win, they can't be giving up free points.
Much of this will also focus on Gonzaga's ability to beat pressure as they bring up the ball. It doesn't take a dedicated video analyst to realize that Gonzaga's young guards can easily be thrown into a panic by throwing a body on them, as we've watched both Silas Melson and Josh Perkins sail passes as if they are at the NFL Draft Combine.
If Arizona is going to win this game, they will be riding the waves of its defense.
This will be the game Josh Perkins really breaks out in.
This is a bold proclamation; because Perkins' only claim to consistency this season is that he alternates good games with bad ones. Against Washington State, Perkins had one of this best games, scoring 16 points and limiting both his turnovers and fouls. When Perkins has looked good this season, it is exciting. He makes you almost forget that Kevin Pangos led this squad for four years. Unfortunately, Perkins struggles with foul trouble--a lot. If Karnowski is out, and with the way Few has shortened the bench to an arms length, Gonzaga can ill-afford to have a player take themselves out of the game.
Mark my words, this is the game we will remember Perkins establishing himself in. Otherwise, it can be a rough night for Gonzaga.
Gonzaga has come dangerously close to pulling off the upset against Arizona multiple times in the two team's history. For once, we are the higher ranked team in the equation. Without Tarczewski, Gonzaga has a big advantage down low--even more so if Karnowski plays. But overall, for as much gelling issues as we've thought Gonzaga has had to deal with, Arizona is a team almost completely made of new places. The Zags can play with a bit of cohesion, and that crowd is going to be rabid.
Gonzaga 70, Arizona 65