They meet again.
The two teams faced off in the NCAA Tournament in 2013, in Tucson in 2014, and then in Spokane in 2015.
Arizona won all three matchups, with the last two victories being by a combined eight points.
“We’re very excited.” Arizona guard Kadeem Allen said of the upcoming game at STAPLES Center. “It’s a chance for our team to really bring out the best in our team. It’s big boy basketball on Saturday.”
This likely won’t be the last meeting between these schools, either.
“We’re going to continue to play Gonzaga because they’re one of the best programs in college basketball,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “And to have the opportunity year in and year out to play against them in a true away game, true home game, neutral (site), it makes a lot of sense especially when you consider who they are in the west.”
Gonzaga has an .810 winning percentage since Mark Few took over the program in 1999, and has made the NCAA Tournament every season since then.
“I admire their program, their coach, love their team...whoever plays Gonzaga, they feel the same way as I do,” Miller said. “Whether they express it or not, I don’t know that, but you have to admire every single thing about their program. On, off the court, their tradition, their quality of player that they’re able to maintain year in and year out and they’re very, very well-coached.
“So if you’re playing against Gonzaga, you’re playing against one of the best programs in the country, playing them in Los Angeles, in a city that’s really important to our program’s history, in the Staples Center, on national television, that’s the types of games you want to be in at Arizona.”
Gonzaga is 7-0 this season, including victories over No. 21 Iowa State, Florida and San Diego State.
The Bulldogs lost their top three scorers from a year ago in Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, and Eric McClellan, but they have reloaded with a plethora of transfers and a star freshman in Zach Collins.
Collins, a 7-footer from Las Vegas, is averaging 11.6 points per game on a 71.1 field goal percentage. Collins comes off the bench, but would be a “full-fledged starter” on most teams.
Former Washington Husky Nigel Williams-Goss is leading the Zags in points per game (12.9) and assists per game (4.9). The 6-foot-3 guard is shooting 44.8 percent from the field and has connected on 11 of 23 3-point attempts in his first season with the Bulldogs.
The Zags also have former Cal standout Jordan Mathews, who scored 28 points against Arizona last season in Berkeley, and Johnathan Williams, a transfer from Missouri.
Williams is leading the Zags in rebounds per game (5.9).
The Bulldogs return bruising big man Przemek Karnowski, who got a fifth year because of back problems that forced him to miss most of last season, and Josh Perkins. Perkins is Gonzaga’s second leading scorer (12.7 PPG). The sophomore guard is a scorching 17-32 (53.1 percent) from behind the arc this season.
As a whole, the Zags have five players — Collins, Karnowski, Perkins, Williams, and Williams-Goss — who average double-figures in the scoring column.
As a team, Kenpom.com ranks Gonzaga as the No. 17 squad in the country, with the 12th-best offense and 35th-best defense.
Arizona ranks 18th and 30th, respectively.
Arizona (6-1) is coming off a blowout victory of Texas Southern, but lost starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright for a “considerable amount of time” due to a high-ankle sprain in the process.
Jackson-Cartwright was leading the Wildcats in assists, and the injury diminishes Arizona to seven scholarship players.
“That’s life at Arizona right now,” Miller said. “What can happen will.”
With Jackson-Cartwright out, Kobi Simmons will move into the starting lineup and Kadeem Allen will start at point guard. When Allen is out, Simmons will shift to point guard.
Rawle Alkins will have to move away from small forward at times to help out at the two-guard, and Lauri Markkanen — the Wildcats’ leading scorer and starting power forward — will have to play at the 3 at times.
“That’s the thing when a guy gets hurt,” Miller said, “you don’t miss just him, you miss everything that he brought because roles now change for everybody.”
Allonzo Trier, who has missed the first seven games for unspecified reasons, is unlikely to suit up against Gonzaga as the Wildcats look for their fourth win in four seasons over the Zags.
“We’re 6-1, we’ve certainly been hit with a number of circumstances and it’s a matter of moving forward from here,” Miller said. “We’re playing one of the best teams we’ll play all season on Saturday and we’re certainly going to have to play a great game and be ready for the challenge.”
How to watch
Time: 3:30 p.m. MST
Announcers: Jay Bilas and Dave Flemming
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