LOS ANGELES – Gonzaga has been here before. So has Arizona.
And the Wildcats, as they’ve done often during a brief but entertaining college basketball series, got the better of the Zags.
No. 8 Gonzaga (7-0) carries another unblemished record into Saturday’s showdown, just like in 2014 and 2008. Arizona won both times, 66-63 in overtime in Tucson two years ago and 69-64 in Phoenix in 2008.
Those marked the first setbacks in two of GU’s four 7-0 starts since 1958-59. No. 16 Arizona (6-1) has won six of seven in the series, including three in the last three seasons.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few likes nearly every aspect of the rivalry: the high-level competition, the mutual respect between coaching staffs and the fact both programs have been among the West’s best, give or take a few seasons, for nearly two decades.
“The series has been good, but we need to start winning some,” Few said. “These last two years have been tough because we’ve been in position to win. We just haven’t finished them off.”
That includes last year’s 68-63 loss in the McCarthey Athletic Center. GU led by 14 in the first half but sputtered on offense in the second half.
Scoring has been one of Gonzaga’s biggest challenges against the defense-minded Wildcats.
“Some years they’re more talented than others on the offensive end, but regardless of that they’ve always competed at a really high level,” said Zags junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss, a transfer from Washington. “We only played them twice (at UW).
“My freshman year they were No. 1 in the country and we had them down close to the last media timeout and lost. And then my sophomore year they beat us pretty good at our house. I’m really looking forward to Saturday.”
Arizona has been rocked by injuries, losing Ray Smith (knee) and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (ankle), and the absence of standout Allonzo Trier, who hasn’t played yet this season because of eligibility issues.
The Wildcats are down to a seven-man rotation. Kadeem Allen moved back to point guard to replace Jackson-Cartwright and standout 7-foot freshman Lauri Markkanen has seen time at small forward, power forward and center.
Markkanen has made at least one 3-pointer in every game and buried five in Wednesday’s win over Texas Southern. He can operate in the midrange and on the low block.
“I think Lauri is as good as any freshman in the country, and I say that after two summers ago having coached the U-19 USA basketball team and a lot of those players are freshmen this year,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “He’s 7-foot, tremendous skill level. He’s the furthest thing from skinny or perimeter only.”
Arizona’s top three scorers are freshmen – Markkanen (18.3), Kobi Simmons (13.0) and Rawle Alkins (10.9) – who weren’t around for recent wins over Gonzaga.
Meanwhile, the Zags are fully aware of the latest results in the rivalry, which includes an 84-61 rout in the 2014 NCAA tournament when then-sophomore center Przemek Karnowski scored a team-high 14 points.
“I feel like we owe them some payback,” redshirt sophomore guard Josh Perkins said. “It’s been some years building up. Saturday’s a time to get back at them.”
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