Another down-to-the-wire contest between Gonzaga and Arizona. Another painful outcome for the Zags.
No. 19 Arizona escaped from a 14-point deficit late in the first half and rallied past the 13th-ranked Zags 68-63 in front of a packed house of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The Wildcats hold a 6-1 series lead, including a 66-63 home victory in overtime last year, and two other wins by five points or less.
Gonzaga (5-2) continued its trend of playing a strong opening 20 minutes followed by a bumpy second-half ride. The Wildcats (7-1) caught Gonzaga with 13 minutes remaining, taking advantage of a flurry of GU turnovers, and went in front for good on Ryan Anderson’s follow jam with 6:13 remaining.
The Zags scored just two points in the final 6:44, on a put-back basket by senior forward Kyle Wiltjer, who carried the offense with 33 points.
“Tale of two halves. We were definitely the aggressor in the first half at both ends,” GU coach Mark Few said. “They were the more aggressive team in the second half. We made a run but we couldn’t get over the hump to get it back. We had a lot of little shots that didn’t drop and it made for a tough second half.”
Gonzaga’s “Big 3” of Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski is down to two with Karnowski missing the last two games with back issues. Karnowski took a hard fall in Tuesday’s practice and an MRI showed a disc is pressing against a nerve, causing pain in his leg.
Wiltjer and Sabonis combined for 51 points and 25 rebounds but didn’t receive much help from the supporting cast. Outside of the forward tandem, the rest of the rotation was 4 of 18 from the field, 0 of 6 on 3-pointers and scored only 12 points.
“In the second half Arizona did a good job adjusting to (Wiltjer and Sabonis) but they were still able to score,” senior guard Kyle Dranginis said. “I think the guards, including myself, need to do a better job of being more aggressive, looking to score more or get to the free-throw line and put foul pressure on them at least.”
Gonzaga committed 16 turnovers, including four in a row in a 60-second span with the score tied at 56. Redshirt freshman point guard Josh Perkins and Sabonis each had five turnovers. The Wildcats had a 12-6 edge in points off turnovers.
“We just got tentative,” Perkins said. “I’m just going to take that loss. I didn’t take care of the ball down the stretch and you have to make open shots. We beat ourselves. We’ll learn from it and get better.”
Senior guard Gabe York triggered Arizona’s second-half comeback, drilling four 3-pointers and scoring 14 of his 18 points. Senior forward Ryan Anderson had 11 of his 13 points in the second half and freshman guard Allonzo Trier’s repeated drives to the rim resulted in 14 points.
“We just didn’t guard the 3-ball,” Wiltjer said. “That’s what fueled their run and got them confidence, and then we turned the ball over. It was a combination of those two.”
Wiltjer, who played 39 minutes, said fatigue wasn’t an issue in the latter stages but he made just 4 of his last 12 shots.
Wiltjer and Sabonis put on a show in the first half. Wiltjer had two 3-pointers, scored from the mid-range and worked in the lane for his eight field goals. Sabonis powered inside for 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
Their best stretch came in the middle of a 10-0 run that hiked Gonzaga’s lead to 26-15. York drove inside and loaded up for a dunk only to get rejected by Sabonis. Wiltjer connected from the baseline at the other end.
They switched roles on Arizona’s next possession. Wiltjer blocked Anderson’s shot from close range, leading to a Sabonis layup.
But the Zags’ 38-28 halftime lead disappeared as Arizona outscored GU 40-25 in the final 20 minutes.
“It was a really frustrating loss,” Dranginis said. “We have to learn to weather the storm and fight through it.”
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