Arizona vs. Gonzaga final score: 3 things we learned from the Wildcats’ overtime win
No. 3 Arizona is still undefeated after surviving a huge test from No. 9 Gonzaga in Tucson on Saturday.
One of the most anticipated games of December lived up to the billing on Saturday, as No. 3 Arizona outlasted No. 9 Gonzaga 66-63 in overtime.
The Zags led for the vast majority of regulation, including a 58-52 advantage with less than four minutes to play, but the Wildcats responded with a clutch 8-2 run spearheaded by Brandon Ashley to send the game into overtime. Arizona then needed to score just six points in the extra frame to to pull off the win and move to 8-0. Neither team shot better than 45 percent from the field, but that was to be expected in a game featuring two of the better defensive teams in the country.
Here’s what we learned from this Saturday thriller.
1. Arizona is still virtually unbeatable at home
In the Sean Miller era, few teams have been better at home than the Wildcats. After Saturday’s game, Arizona has now won 26 consecutive games at the McKale Center, and a Division-I best 35 straight games against non-conference opponents.
The last non-con squad to knock off Zona at home? Gonzaga, which did the trick on Dec. 17, 2011.
2. Gonzaga is a legitimate national championship contender
Everyone knows that Gonzaga hasn’t made it past the Sweet 16 since 1999, and as a result, there is a large chunk of the college basketball world which rolls its collective eyes whenever the Bulldogs are ranked in the top 10 and discussed as a “serious Final 4 contender.”
There have been more than a few claims of “this year’s team is different” over the past decade, but this is the season where that statement feels valid. Two years ago, the Zags rolled through the West Coast Conference and earned a No. 1 seed in the big dance before being upset by Wichita State in the Round of 32. This team is better than that one, or at least it’s going to be when all is said and done.
Mark Few has never had a group this balanced. His guard combination of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. compares favorably with the elite Gonzaga backcourts of year’s past, but he also has a terrific inside presence with Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski, and a pair of capable scorers on the wing in Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley.
Too often in the past, Gonzaga has been over-reliant on star players (think Adam Morrison or Kelly Olynyk). What sets this team apart from others is its depth and the quality of that depth. The Zags aren’t going to have a first team All-American, they might not even have the WCC Player of the Year, but they might be more of a threat to have a better season than the teams that did because of it.
3. The Zags have to find a go-to-guy with the game on the line
Up six after the final TV timeout, Gonzaga should have found a way to put this game on ice. Instead, they failed to make a shot in the game’s final four minuted and then made just one field goal in overtime.
With the score tied at 60, Few’s team had three chances to score the game’s deciding basket. The first time, he put the ball in the hands of the team’s biggest star, Kevin Pangos, who forced a drive into a congested lane and lost the ball. On attempt two, he went with uber-athletic off-guard Gary Bell Jr., who also forced a drive before eventually tossing up a wild airball. With 1.4 seconds left, Few then turned to Kyle Wiltjer, who got a relatively clean look at a buzzer-beater from the right corner, but drew nothing but iron.
It was more of the same in overtime, as Pangos lost control of the ball on a drive with his team down 1 and 24 seconds left to play. The Zags retained possession a jump ball, but Sabonis promptly gave it back by way of a double-dribble. Gonzaga then had one final chance to tie the game after Byron Wesley was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 3.3 seconds to play, but the senior, who shoots 75.8 percent from the foul line, airballed his first attempt and then missed the next two for good measure.
You don’t have to have an All-American to win a national title, but you do need to have a reliable performer who has the full confidence of his teammates to get the job done in clutch situations.