When this season’s schedule was released, many Gonzaga fans circled this matchup on their calendars as an on opportunity for revenge. After three years of Arizona getting the better of them, the Zags finally broke through at the Staples Center and knocked off the Wildcats 69-62.
Gonzaga raced out of the gates with a pair of 3s in the first 50 seconds of the game, and quickly established a double digit lead that would stand up for most of the afternoon. It wasn’t all offense for Gonzaga, as they stifled a short-handed Arizona squad (38.6% from the field) highlighted by seven Bulldog blocks.
Przemek Karnowski (18 points) led all scorers with a dominant display in the post, frequently getting whatever he wanted against Arizona’s lengthy, but significantly leaner bigs. Despite the obvious mismatch against Karnowski, Arizona opted to defend him straight-up for most of the game in an effort to avoid letting him dice up their defense with his excellent passing. This approach put Dusan Ristic and Chance Comance in the unenviable position of defending the Pride of Poland on their own, which means they spent most of the afternoon watching Karnowski drop baby hooks over them and into the basket.
As the season progressed, the hope was that Gonzaga’s chemistry and integration of all the new faces would improve, and this game showed that those hopes were starting to be realized. Gonzaga’s ball movement was exquisite for extended periods of the game, and the team’s unselfish nature was on display for a national audience. Josh Perkins (16 points), and former Pac-12 standouts Nigel Williams-Goss (10), Jordan Mathews (10) also reached double figures for the Zags.
However, despite the Zags seeming dominance on the court, Arizona was able to hang around and stay within reach. Rawle Alkins (16 points), who doesn’t enjoy as much of the spotlight as some of his other teammates, did his part with a strong effort. But, he didn’t get much help from his fellow freshmen. McDonald’s All-American Kobi Simmons probably played the worst game of his young collegiate career, scoring 2 points on 1-9 shooting. Lauri Marrkkanen finished with 14 points, but he shot 1-7 (4-14 overall) in the first half when Gonzaga built its lead, and failed to make the impact necessary for the Wildcats to win this game.
The main storyline going into Saturday’s matchup was Arizona’s dwindling depth following the losses of Ray Smith (retired after a 3rd ACL tear), Allonzo Trier ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), Talbott Denny (ACL), and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (ankle sprain). If you factor in the loss of McDonald’s All-American guard Terrance Ferguson who opted to play pro ball in Australia rather than attend Arizona this year, not much has gone right over the past 6 months for Gonzaga’s desert rival.
The Hoophall LA showdown felt like it would lack some of the shine initially attributed to this game when the schedule was first released with all the personnel issues plaguing Arizona. However, credit to the Wildcats for hanging in there and not letting the Zags run away with an easy win.
At the 5:30 mark, Arizona finally got the deficit under double-digits, and even got as close as six points as some missed free throws and empty possessions from the Zags prevented them from pulling away. But, it was Gonzaga’s backcourt edge that helped ice the game as some timely rebounds and key buckets from Nigel Williams-Goss ensured that Zag fans didn’t have to sweat out the finish to the Saturday matinee.
With the win, Gonzaga moves to 8-0 on the season. They’ll put their undefeated record on the line in another rivalry game when they face the Washington Huskies on Wednesday.