Omaha nice prep for Arizona before Gonzaga

No. 15 Arizona, coming off its first loss of the season, will look to build on a positive defensive performance when it hosts Omaha on Wednesday night in Tucson, Ariz.

The Wildcats (9-1) fell 63-58 at then-No. 18 Baylor on Saturday, when they rallied from an 18-point first-half deficit in their first true road game of the season against their most talented opponent, by far. Arizona coach Sean Miller, who has challenged his team to play better defense, saw the Bears make only 6 of 27 shots after halftime.

“Our defense was as good as it’s been,” Miller told reporters. “Our defense was certainly good enough, and we also forced 16 turnovers. They are a team that doesn’t turn the ball over and I think we made some real strides in that area.”

Arizona will continue to try to fine-tune its defense against the Mavericks (5-6) before getting its second big test of the nonconference season on Saturday against visiting sixth-ranked Gonzaga.

Omaha has lost three consecutive games, all away from home, starting with a loss at Saint Mary’s on Dec. 1, followed by setbacks against Arkansas State on Dec. 3 and Northern Arizona on Sunday.

Matt Pile is averaging a double-double with 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. Guard KJ Robinson is coming off the bench to average 11.6 points, second on the team behind fellow guard JT Gibson, who is at 13.9 points per game while making 39.1 percent of his 3-point attempts (25 of 64).

Zach Thornhill is coming off a 14-point performance and has started every game this year after his 2018-19 season was cut short due to a hip injury.

“I really conditioned myself in the offseason coming off the injury,” Thornhill told the Omaha World-Herald. “It took a little time, but it’s good.”

Other than the 6-foot-8 Pile, Omaha doesn’t have a lot of height or rebounding muscle, which should allow Arizona to establish its post game, led by 6-11 freshman Zeke Nnaji, who had only six shots with four turnovers against Baylor.

He is averaging team-highs with 16.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 71.8 percent from the field.

Arizona shot only 26.9 percent against the Bears, including just 2 of 18 from 3-point range. The Wildcats still rank 10th nationally in field-goal percentage at 50.5, but Miller wants to see a bit more patience.

“We had a number of guys that didn’t necessarily play well on offense,” Miller said. “Sometimes you think you get good looks, and maybe you didn’t, but we clearly have to get better.

“When we’re in transition and the ball is going in, you know that’s when we’re at our best. We want to play with tempo. When you play against good teams on the road, as the college basketball season grows, the early shots aren’t going to be as plentiful, nor are they going to be as open many times. When you take quick, ill-advised shots, you almost put that in a category of a turnover.”

Point guard Nico Mannion, who missed practice before last week’s game because of a back problem, is averaging 15.3 points. Fellow freshman Josh Green (12.5) is hoping to feel closer to 100 percent after dealing with strep throat last week and scoring eight points against Baylor.