“Another wild night in Lahaina.” That’s how Mark Few described his Tuesday evening in Gonzaga’s 91-74 win over the Arizona Wildcats. Despite perfect conditions outside, Gonzaga found itself in a storm that looked difficult to weather for the first 23 minutes of the game.
Experience and talent eventually won out, however, and Gonzaga used a dominant second half to overcome Sean Miller’s young team that is still experiencing growing pains. Rui Hachimura led Gonzaga in scoring with 24 points, while Zach Norvell added 20 of his own despite a very cold first half. Arizona’s Justin Coleman led all scorers with 28 points.
The two teams exchanged parries for the entirety of the opening 10 minutes, with neither being able to build more than a 2-point lead until there was about 7:22 left in the first half. Gonzaga struggled to establish any offensive rhythm that could unlock Arizona’s defense, and the situation was only exacerbated when Josh Perkins took a seat at the 7-minute mark with his second foul. Arizona capitalized on his absence, and Gonzaga’s issues at the backup point guard position, to build a lead and go into the break up 45-37 thanks in large part to Gonzaga only converting a single field goal in the final six minutes of the opening half.
Much can be made of the refereeing at the tournament so far, but the Zags didn’t do themselves any favors with their woes at the free throw line. Arizona did its job at the line in the first half, shooting 19-22, while the Zags only converted 9 of 15 attempts. Foul trouble up and down the lineup during the first half forced Few into rolling out some “crazy” lineups, as he described it, and the lack of cohesion at both ends of the floor was telling.
“We lost our way,” said Few on his team’s first half performance. Whatever the half time adjustments were, they took a little while to manifest themselves on the floor. Gonzaga’s walk through the wilderness continued as the second half got underway, taking nearly three minutes to score its first points while Arizona built a 13-point lead. Hachimura ended the drought with a mid-range jumper that he hit consistently all night, and a takeaway at the defensive end led to a Norvell fastbreak dunk that sparked the Zags and turned the tide.
At the defensive end, Gonzaga began switching 1-5 which stymied Arizona’s attack and created a host of desperation drives and turnovers. Arizona finished the game with only 3 assists, which highlighted how effective Gonzaga was at isolating the ball and disrupting Arizona’s sets. For their part, the Zags finally got the message and began taking much better care of the ball, only turning the ball over twice in the second half.
Gonzaga’s shooters didn’t let a cold first half diminish their confidence, and three-pointers finally began to fall. “Shooters shoot,” was the message that Josh Perkins shared after the game. Norvell, who has shown time and again that just because he’s 0-8 from the arc doesn’t mean he’s going to miss the next one. That type of confidence and self-belief is what separates good teams from great teams, and it’s what Gonzaga will need to finish it’s wild week in Maui.