Cold-shooting Arizona woke up from the dead after trailing Gonzaga by 13 points with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, but the Wildcats could not heat up quite fast enough in an 84-80 loss at McKale Center on Saturday night.
Arizona, which shot only 37. 7 percent from the field, including 8 of 30 from 3-point range, could not come back all the way from an 81-68 deficit with 1:26 left.
The Wildcats’ torrid rally:
Jemarl Baker made a 3-pointer with 1:04 left.
Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi missed two free throws.
Dylan Smith made a jumper with 44 seconds left to cut the lead to 81-73.
Gonzaga’s Admon Gilder made only one of two free throws.
Nico Mannion made his first 3-pointer of the game with 29 seconds left.
Drew Timme missed two free throws for the Zags.
Zeke Nnaji, who had 16 points and 17 rebounds, made a layup with 11 seconds left to cut the lead to 82-78.
Zeke Nnaji was a "monster," Sean Miller said. He said he regrets not creating the possibility for Nnaji to get more looks. pic.twitter.com/IWRzuRwiMn
For some reason, Gonzaga’s Ryan Woolridge took a quick shot and missed.
Baker made a layup with 1.8 seconds left to cut the lead to 82-80.
Woolridge was fouled and made two free throws to seal the game.
Sean Miller points out that only six turnovers and winning the rebounding battle usually results in a win. Not tonight. Not with the cold shooting. pic.twitter.com/TJgs6zTwlJ
It was only the fourth time in the Sean Miller era, starting in the 2009-10 season, that a ranked non-conference opponent played at McKale Center. Gonzaga is two of those opponents.
The Wildcats beat No. 9 Gonzaga 66-63 in overtime on Dec. 6, 2014, and they defeated No. 5 Florida 65-64 on Dec. 15, 2012. In Miller’s first season, the Wildcats lost in double-overtime to No. 24 UNLV 74-72 on Dec. 2, 2009.
A quality win that might mean a lot come March escaped Arizona (10-2) this time as well as last week at No. 18 Baylor, after another furious late rally. Gonzaga (11-1) has won three straight games against the West coast basketball-power rival Arizona.
After the Zags built their lead to nine points for the second time early in the second half, Max Hazzard — Arizona’s only consistent threat from the perimeter — responded with his third 3-pointer with 9:06 left to cut the lead to 61-55.
Hazzard made 3 of 4 from 3-point range while his teammates were a combined 5 of 26.
The Zags responded after Hazzard’s 3-pointer converting on three straight possessions to increase their lead to 69-55 with 7:29 left in regulation. Timeout was called and the life was seemingly sucked out of McKale.
Since start of Olson era (83-84), tonight 24th ranked non-conference opponent to play at McKale. Olson’s teams faced 19, O’Neill’s 07-08 team played one & this’ll be Miller’s fourth. Little defense for Miller: Scheduled UNLV, UConn, Missouri, etc. and those teams didn’t pan out. pic.twitter.com/uRKvJtqT03
Green had a chance to narrow the lead to five points with a 3-pointer with 3:39 left but he missed and Gonzaga went on an 8-0 run that ultimately enabled the Zags to leave Tucson with a victory.
Arizona shot a cold 30 percent from the field, including 1 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half, yet trailed only 35-34 at the half.
The factors that kept the Wildcats in the game in the first half were their offensive rebounding (12 that led 13 second-chance points) and only two turnovers (Arizona outscored Gonzaga 7-0 in points off turnovers).
Those combined 20 points were vital for Arizona because Gonzaga appeared to control the lane on offense,penetrating for high-percentage shots with Ayayi stretching the defense making 2 of 3 from 3-point range. Ayayi had eight points at halftime and Corey Kispert had seven points with his four rebounds inside.
Kispert finished with a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds. Frontcourt mate Filip Petrusev finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Green, who finished with 17 points, had 11 of them on 3 of 8 shooting while Nnaji had 10 points and nine rebounds at the break. Green and Nnaji were a combined 9 of 10 at the free throw line in the first half.
A 12-0 run by Gonzaga gave the Zags a 54-45 lead with 12:31 left in regulation.
The Wildcats were in a major shooting funk at that time, making only 9 of 29 shots from the field, including 1 of 12 from 3-point range going back to the 10-minute mark of the first half.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.