All games are important. Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier will tell you that. The Bulldogs’ game against Arizona in Jerry Colangelo’s Hall of Fame Series on Wednesday might be just a little more important.
“It’s going to be a heavily Arizona crowd compared to when we’re in Spokane, so I’m really excited for that game,” Fortier said during WCC media day in November. “I won’t tell you all the ones that have circles on them. I’ll just say they all do, but that one’s circle is good just to see how my team’s gonna respond. Circle’s a little darker. It’s nothing against them or [Adia Barnes]. It’s just I want to see how my team responds in that one.”
The Bulldogs have responded well when facing Pac-12 teams this season. They have a big home win over then-No. 3 Stanford, albeit in a game when Cameron Brink went down with an injury and only played for 11 minutes. They secured an overtime victory over California in Haas Pavilion, and they had an overtime loss against then-No. 24 Washington State in Pullman. They will finish their own mini-Pac-12 season at no worse than .500.
They also bring Pac-12 experience to this game. Brynna Maxwell starred for Utah for three years before returning to finish her career closer to home prior to last year. This is her final season of college basketball, and she’s making the most of it.
Maxwell is one of five Bulldogs scoring in double figures. Her 13.5 points per game are second on the team to forward Yvonne Ejim, who has been good for 19.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game this season. She is also one of the four members of the team to take double-digit threes this season and connect on at least 37 percent of them.
Gonzaga will pose an offensive problem for Arizona at every position. While they don’t have the size the Wildcats have, they have made good use of their outside shooting. The Bulldogs are 15th in the nation with a 38.9 percent shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
They haven’t done it against a weak schedule, either. While women’s basketball doesn’t officially use the quadrant system that the men’s NET uses, it’s still helpful to look at opponents within the quadrant concept.
Gonzaga is 4-2 against Quad 1 opponents. Of the 13 opponents the Bulldogs have faced, nine fall into Quad 1 or Quad 2. They are 7-2 in those games.
In contrast, Arizona is 2-3 against Quad 1 and Quad 2 opponents. The five teams the Wildcats have played that fall within those quadrants are Texas, UNLV, Ole Miss, South Dakota, and Arizona State.
Experience is also a big advantage for Gonzaga. While Arizona is starting two freshmen and a sophomore, the Bulldogs’ roster has 11 players who are at least redshirt sophomores. Four are graduate students. Those four graduate students join 6-foot-1 senior Ejim in the starting lineup. Perhaps not surprisingly, the three freshmen on the team all average 6.2 or fewer minutes per game.
Where does Arizona have an advantage? As should be expected for a team coached by Barnes, it’s on the defensive end of the court. The Wildcats are ranked 34th on defense by Her Hoop Stats. That compares to the No. 55 ranking of Gonzaga on that end. Can the Wildcats lock down well enough to upset the Bulldogs?
Games like this are usually more important for the mid-major team, which is often trying to improve its NET ranking for postseason selection and seeding. This year, Arizona is taking the role that Gonzaga might have seen for itself when the game was scheduled. If the Wildcats can defeat the Bulldogs, it will be a significant notch on their belts.
No. 20 Gonzaga Bulldogs (11-2, 0-0 WCC) vs Arizona Wildcats (8-3, 1-0 Pac-12)
When: Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 2:30 p.m. MST
Where: Footprint Arena in Phoenix, Ariz.
TV: Channel 13 (KOLD) in Tucson. Channel 3 (Arizona’s Family Sports/KTVK) in Phoenix. Arizona’s Family Sports is also available in Tucson on Channel 13.5 with an OTA digital antenna. In other parts of Arizona, check local listings for Arizona’s Family Sports.
Stats: Live Stats
Radio: Listen online
Win probabilities: This game is predicted to be a tight one by both Her Hoop Stats and Massey Ratings, and they don’t agree on who will win. This is technically a neutral-site game, but it’s likely to be a strongly Arizona crowd despite being in the middle of the day on a weekday two hours from Tucson. In a neutral-site matchup, HHS makes Gonzaga a 5.5 point favorite with a 67.6 percent win probability. The stats service predicts a point total of 140.5. On the other hand, Massey predicts Arizona will win by the most likely score of 71-67. Massey gives the Wildcats a 60 percent win probability.