It was a week ago that the Arizona Wildcats had some of their biggest flaws exposed. A midweek win over a completely overmatched opponent gave the impression that many of these issues had been addressed.
They were not.
Arizona had another woeful shooting night, hitting 38.5 percent of their shots overall and going 8 for 30 from 3 in falling 84-80 at home to No. 6 Gonzaga on Saturday night.
It was a particularly bad night for freshman point guard Nico Mannion who had seven points and 10 assists but was just 3 of 20 from the field and 1 of 11 from 3. In Arizona’s two losses Mannion is 6 for 34.
Outside of the game’s first six minutes, when the sold out McKale Center crowd provided boundless energy to feed off, and a mad flurry over the final 2:12 when they outscored Gonzaga 15-1 to make it a 2-point game with 1.9 seconds left, the Wildcats very much resembled the team that shot a Sean Miller era low 26.9 percent in losing at Baylor.
Against Baylor, their defense at least kept them in the game. That wasn’t the case against Gonzaga (11-1), which shot 47.5 percent overall including 50 percent in the second half to turn a one-point halftime lead into a double-digit edge midway through the period.
Gonzaga led 35-34 at halftime and built a three-point edge before Dylan Smith drained a corner 3, just the second in 20 attempts by Arizona on the night, to tie it at 41. Chase Jeter scored inside on the next possession to put the Wildcats back in front, but the Bulldogs retook the lead for good during a 12-0 run for a 54-45 edge with 12:31 left.
The Wildcats went 4:45 without scoring, missing six shots in a row and turning it over three times, before Jemarl Baker Jr. drove to the basket with 12:06 to go.
Arizona pulled within six but then Gonzaga scored eight points in 81 seconds to build a 69-55 lead with 7:29 left.
It was 81-65 Bulldogs with 2:12 to go before the Wildcats suddenly woke up on offense, hitting six of their last seven shots including three 3s. Baker’s drive with 1.9 seconds to go got them within 82-80 before Gonzaga’s iced it with a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds left.
Arizona picked up four offensive rebounds on its first nine possessions, resulting in five second-chance points. That included two occasions when Zeke Nnaji came down with the miss was fouled going back up, and Nnaji also had a three-point play to give him eight in the first 5:28 of play.
The Wildcats led 16-7 and looked primed to run away early when they went into a prolonged shooting drought, missing eight in a row and 13 of 14, which allowed Gonzaga to get back into the game. The Bulldogs got within 19-17 before Josh Green scored on a floater in the lane and was fouled, making the free throw.
Arizona didn’t commit its first turnover until 8:20 left in the first, but quick, bad shots made up for that. An example was a three-point try by Mannion that was far off the mark, allowing Gonzaga to get out on the break with speedy sophomore guard Joel Ayayi racing past the defense for a basket to pull the Bulldogs within 30-28 with 3:34 left.
Gonzaga took its first lead at 34-32 on a three-pointer by Corey Kispert with 1:20 left, and its one-point halftime edge came via a Woolridge free throw with 45 seconds left.
The Wildcats finished with 17 offensive rebounds, their most since last January, but converted those into only 19 second chance points.
Green led Arizona with 19 points but was just 5 of 15 from the field, while Nnaji had 16 points and 17 rebounds but took only 10 shots.