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Talking Gonzaga and Arizona

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The Zags and the Wildcats are meeting for the 100th time in the past 10 years.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga vs Arizona Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

You probably haven’t recovered from last night’s game yet, but that doesn’t matter. The Maui Invitational demands another sacrifice, so we have the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Arizona Wildcats on tap tonight for the second round.

Doing a game preview on such short notice is not something I want to spend my vacation day doing, so luckily, Ryan Kelapire over at AZ Desert Swarm was nice enough to answer a few questions.

TSSF: The Zags recruited the heck out of Brandon Williams and fell short, leaving our fanbase with a rather bitter pill to swallow. How has he been so far?

RK: Really good. He’s had some trouble shooting the ball — he’s 5 for 19 from 3 — but he is still averaging 14 points per game and has done a great job of distributing, with 19 assists to just two turnovers. In fact, he did not commit his first turnover until Monday’s game, which is kinda nuts. Williams is a good slasher and crafty finisher, and will wind up being one of Arizona’s top two scorers this season. The other being Brandon Randolph.

TSSF: It looks like Arizona’s defense is the face of the squad through the first few games this season. How do you see them matching up against Gonzaga?

RK: Gonzaga’s frontcourt is going to be tough to stop. Arizona has struggled to control the defensive glass and the Zags seem to be pretty good on the offensive glass. Rui Hachimura will be a tough cover because of his athleticism and ability to put the ball on the floor. Obviously Brandon Clarke is terrifying too. Arizona’s perimeter defense didn’t look all that great against the Cyclones either, though it did tighten up in the second half. The one thing this team does do is play with effort.

TSSF: After the Brandon’s and Chase Jeter, the offense looks like it drops off a decent amount. Gonzaga likes to score a lot of buckets. How does Arizona keep up (or can they)?

RK: Arizona shoots a lot of 3s, but makes them at an inconsistent rate. So to have any chance of keeping up with Gonzaga, they’re going to have to have a hot shooting day. They just don’t generate enough offense in other ways to make up for it. Unlike last year, the Wildcats don’t have a big man that can get a bucket when they need it. Chase Jeter isn’t really that type of player and Ryan Luther has had most of his offensive success at the 3-point line or via offensive rebounds.

Arizona will obviously have to take care of the ball too, but that is something they have done well this year, only committing 26 turnovers in the last three games.

TSSF: Three point shooting hasn’t been your strongest suit this year. Is it just slow shooters that need to get going, or is Arizona more of a two point team?

RK: Arizona has plenty of guys that are capable of shooting 3s — Luther, Randolph, Williams, Justin Coleman and Dylan Smith to name a few — but as mentioned earlier, they are inconsistent. Luther is kind of the wild card. He has shot the ball well, but isn’t someone who likes to look for his shot. Smith is the opposite. He likes to shoot, but doesn’t do it well. Randolph is probably the most consistent 3-point threat and his backcourt mates, Coleman and Williams, are always a threat to strike.

Personally I think 3-point shooting will wind up being one of Arizona’s strengths, making them a team that can beat anybody when they are on, but also very beatable when they are off. Arizona’s teams in the past were not like that at all, but that’s what happens when you’re not as talented.

TSSF: Going off the idea (despite not looking as good yesterday) that Gonzaga is the favorite in the game, how do you see Arizona pulling off an upset?

RK: They’re going to have to rebound as a team and have a great shooting night. It’d help if they can get into the bonus and get some easy points at the free throw line too so they can survive those spells when their jumpers aren’t falling. Gonzaga is usually a well-coached team and Arizona is a team that is breaking in a lot of new faces, so avoiding defensive breakdowns will be important. There were quite a few against Iowa State that resulted in easy baskets.