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3 up, 3 down from Arizona’s loss to Gonzaga

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arizona-wildcats-gonzaga-bulldogs-reaction-positive-negative-basketball-college-analysis Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

On Saturday night, the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats fell to 10-2 on the 2019-2020 season when they were defeated 84-80 by the No. 6 Gonzaga Bulldogs at McKale Center.

The Cats staged a furious comeback attempt — going on a 15-1 run over the last two minutes to get within two points — but the final margin didn’t reflect the difference between the teams on the night.

Arizona shot just 38.5 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three, while the Zags finished at 47.5 and 39.1 percent, respectively.

“We lost to a better team than us at this moment,” UA head coach Sean Miller said afterwards.

While our full recap can be found here, here’s a breakdown of some of the major positives and negatives from the night.

3 up

Zeke Nnaji

After cooling off just ever so slightly the last few games, Zeke was back to his best Saturday night against the Bulldogs.

Nnaji finished with a double-double of 16 points and 17 rebounds (a career high) and to do so against a very big and physical, top-10 team like Gonzaga was a major positive.

Truth be told, there weren’t many others from the night.

Feeding off the crowd and playing with a super-high motor, Nnaji dominated the early stages of the game, as he continuously pulled down offensive rebounds and drew fouls.

From the way he was yelling and fist-pumping after seemingly every play he made, you could tell he was locked in from the jump.

After the game, Miller said that he had spoke to Zeke recently about getting back to that style of play.

“We talked to him a little bit last couple weeks, he wasn’t playing with that reckless abandon or fire,” Miller said. “Well, he returned back to form tonight.”

Even though it wasn’t enough to get a win against a very good Gonzaga team, Arizona fans will be hoping that Zeke continues to play like that going forward.

Never say die attitude

Much like the Baylor game last weekend, Arizona could have easily ended up being blown out in the second half by Gonzaga.

Much like the Baylor game, they weren’t though.

The Zags pushed the lead out to 16 with 2:12 remaining, but again the Cats never gave up and ultimately cut the deficit to two points with just seconds left.

Miller commended his team after the game for continuing to compete in a contest that seemed well over.

“We really fought hard to the end,” he said. “We didn’t give in, it would have been easy frustration to say hey, not tonight, but we really rallied and got the game down (to) a couple of possessions there, which is a real testament to our group. I love the fact that fought hard to the end.”

Crowd

Yes, there were fans who left early and missed the Cats late comeback attempt, but this felt like a vintage McKale crowd — particularly in the first half.

As mentioned before, Nnaji and the rest of the Wildcats were clearly playing off the energy of it and Gonzaga seemed genuinely fazed early in the game.

They took rushed shot after rushed shot early on, which allowed Arizona to take an early 19-10 lead.

The Zags ended up stemming the tide of course, but still, there was no doubting that it was a great college basketball atmosphere.

3 down

Nico Mannion

It wasn’t a good night for Arizona’s true freshman point guard.

Mannion shot just 3-20 from the field (1-10 from three) and finished with seven points in the loss.

While he did end the game with 10 assists, it was obvious afterwards that Nico was frustrated with how he played — he was seen putting up shots in McKale long after fans had left the arena.

I’m not too worried about him considering it’s still only December of his first collegiate season, but Saturday’s game was the second time in a row against stiffer competition that Mannion has struggled shooting the ball - he’s now 6 for 34 from the field in the Wildcats’ games against ranked opponents this season.

Shooting

While the Wildcats outrebounded Gonzaga (44-43) and turned the ball over less times than the Bulldogs (10-6) — typically a recipe for success — they simply didn’t shoot well enough to win this game.

Going 30 for 78 from the field and 8 of 30 from the three-point line just isn’t going to beat elite level competition and considering that Arizona struggled to shoot against Baylor too (the only other ranked opponent they will have faced heading into Pac-12 play) it’s definitely a cause for concern for Miller and his staff.

Shot selection

This one goes right along with our last category and the team’s shot selection was something that Miller harped on after the game — not for the first time either.

His message to his team was clear: less three’s and more Zeke.

“We have to be more specific on offense. The ball can move and we can share it and we can be balanced, but it has to be, ‘the ball’s going to him in this area until further notice.’ That’s really important. Sometimes you live and die by the 3. We don’t need to do that right now. For us, we can drive the ball, we can get the ball to the low post and I look at Zeke, he had eight second shots, he took 10 shots. I’m gonna say only five or six of his field goal attempts came of his own doing. We have to be better at getting him the ball where they can’t trap him and that’s one of many regrets that I have about tonight. When we really needed to be able to do that, we couldn’t and that hurt us.”