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Gonzaga survives Arizona, 84-80

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A score that should not have been that close.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs pulled off their third win over a Pac-12 team, defeating the Arizona Wildcats on the road, 84-80.

The final score is seemingly not indicative of how a majority of the second half was played, but also, somehow, seems perfectly fitting for what we can expect from this team. After a brutal opening to the game, in which it seemed the Wildcats were going to run Gonzaga off the floor, the Bulldogs stabilized to take a one point lead into half.

In the second half, it was all Gonzaga. The Zags dictated the pace of the game and seemed to have it firmly in control, going into the waning minutes with a 16 point lead. Then the free throws emerged, or shall we say, the lack thereof. A plethora of missed shots at the charity strip and an untimely (or very timely, depending on which team you root for) run from Arizona turned a sure-fire 81-65 with 2:15 left in the game win into a narrow 82-80 lead with two seconds left. What the KJDFL:KJD#)U)U@#)RIUOIEURF)9u430f.

In that sense, tonight’s game was another perfect example of just how bizarre it is to attempt to pigeonhole these Zags into any corner. At the start of the game, the shots looked flat and the defense looked confused. Things were looking not great. But then the tried and true combination of Corey Kispert and Filip Petrusev got going and things were looking fine.

On the defensive end, the Zags weren’t looking half bad. Arizona’s uber-freshman Nico Mannion finished with 10 assists but also shot 3-of-20 from the floor. Second uber-freshman Zeke Nnaji rampaged down low, finishing with 16 points and 17 rebounds (eight of those offensive), but with the team shooting just 38 percent from the floor, his massive effort wasn’t enough. Josh Green, the third uber-freshman, closed the game with 17 points, but shot 5-of-15 in the process. On the immediate look, for the better part of 38 minutes, the Gonzaga defense looked like it held up.

Stifiling those Arizona big three was the first key to the game, and Petrusev’s best game in a Gonzaga uniform is what helped carry the offense. Petrusev played through a hard game, left a little bit to be desired from the free throw line, but finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks. It was a statement-level line from a player that has shown a bit of sheepishness around the more elite-level competition.

The game from Petrusev was especially important because Killian Tillie did exactly what we all fear most—seemingly injure himself on a play that made no sense. While trying to defend an inbounding ball, Tillie leapt up and walked off the court limping. He would spend the remainder of the game on the bench, and we will see if he sees the floor on Wednesday.

Admon Gilder finally looked like he got his step back, scoring 13 points and going 4-of-4 from three point range. Joel Ayayi did his standard box score stuffing, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, and seven assists.

So yes, gutty win. But let’s take a second to unpack what happened in those final two minutes. With Gonzaga owning a 16 point lead, this is how they finished:

  1. Joel Ayayi missed three
  2. Ryan Woolridge turnover
  3. Admon Gilder turnover
  4. Joel Ayayi missed free throw
  5. Joel Ayayi missed free throw
  6. Admon Gilder made free throw
  7. Admon Gilder missed free throw
  8. Drew Timme missed free throw
  9. Drew Timme missed free throw
  10. Ryan Woolridge missed layup
  11. Ryan Woolridge made free throw
  12. Ryan Woolridge made free throw

But hey, a win is a win, and in a tough as nails road environment. the Zags pulled it off. This is the third win over a Pac-12 opponent and the second one on the road. We can nitpick all we want about missed free throws, but that is nothing new about this squad. All we can hope for is that they are able to demonstrate exactly what they did tonight: Get a big enough lead so that when you start to miss gimme shots you can still hold onto it.

That was a wild game. This team is a wild team. Up next is North Carolina at home. Let’s do this.