No. 8 Gonzaga has longtime nemesis in No. 16 Arizona
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) With the exception of bitter league rival Saint Mary's, no team has bedeviled No. 8 Gonzaga more than No. 16 Arizona in recent years.
Gonzaga has won only one of seven games against the Wildcats, all played since Mark Few became head coach of the Bulldogs in 2000. The Zags will get another chance when two of the premier programs in the West play Saturday at Hoophall LA in Los Angeles.
''We've had some great games with them in the last couple of years,'' Few said. ''We've ended up on the short end. Maybe we can turn that around.''
Coming into the season, Few's .808 winning percentage was the highest of any active Division I coach. Of Few's 111 career losses, nine have come at the hands of No. 12 Saint Mary's. Arizona comes in second with its six victories over Gonzaga, including two in the NCAA Tournament.
''We've had a great series and relationship with the University of Arizona,'' Few said. ''I can't think of a program I have more respect for, and a head coach I have more respect for than Sean (Miller).''
The feeling is mutual.
Miller said he's pleased to be playing an opponent of Gonzaga's caliber in the non-conference season. ''It's the right thing to do when you consider the history of both of our programs,'' he said.
Both teams are among the nation's best again this year.
Gonzaga (6-0) just won the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida, beating No. 24 Florida and No. 19 Iowa State in the process. The Zags play Mississippi Valley State (0-8) on Thursday before heading to Los Angeles.
Despite losing Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer from last year's Sweet Sixteen team to the NBA, the Zags have not missed a beat. They are starting three new transfer students – Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams – plus veterans Przemek Karnowski and Josh Perkins. Freshman Zach Collins and Killian Tillie are giving them quality minutes off the bench.
''We're trying to filter in seven or eight new guys,'' Few said. ''We're very much a work in progress.''
The Wildcats' talent level, athleticism and focus on defense are tough to overcome, Few said.
''They can create a lot of adversity for you,'' Few said. ''It's hard to create offensive success that you can sustain.''
Arizona beat Gonzaga 68-63 last season in Spokane. Gonzaga's lone victory in the series was 71-60 in 2011 in Seattle.
Arizona (5-1) also is a work in progress. Because of injuries, Miller is giving big minutes to three freshmen – Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, and Rawle Alkins.
''We wouldn't be 5-1 if we didn't have all three of them,'' Miller said. ''Lauri is as good as any freshman in the country.''
Arizona was ranked No. 8 before losing to Butler last weekend in the title game of the Continental Las Vegas Invitational.
Miller is wary of the Zags.
''They always have a tremendous front line,'' Miller said. ''They really know how to put your team in foul trouble.''
Gonzaga also plays at a deceptively fast pace, Miller said.
''If they get easy shots, you're going to have a very difficult time defeating them,'' Miller said.
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