Gonzaga-Arizona Preview

BY foxsports • December 5, 2014

Less than nine months ago, Arizona showed Gonzaga it had no business considering a Sweet 16 berth a realistic goal.

Now it's the third-ranked Wildcats that the No. 9 Bulldogs will face Saturday in Tucson to prove they belong among the top 10, while also attempting to place bookends on Arizona's regular-season nonconference winning streak.

With Tuesday's 91-65 win over Gardner-Webb, Arizona (7-0) has pushed that run to a nation-best 34 games. The Wildcats haven't lost a nonconference game during the regular season since Gonzaga (7-0) beat them Dec. 17, 2011.

The most recent meeting was much different. Gonzaga's season came to a close March 23 with an 84-61 rout by top-seeded Arizona, and even Mark Few's touted newcomers are up for the rematch.

"I don't think we could be more excited about Saturday's game," guard Byron Wesley said.

Wesley got to know the Wildcats in three seasons at USC and scored 18 points in each of his last two games against them.

The teams have met five times in the last 15 seasons with Arizona winning four. This will be the fifth time in six games that one of the programs enters with a top-5 ranking, though it's the first meeting with both teams in the Top 25.

"It will be a big-time college basketball game in December," said Few, whose squad has dropped its last seven against the top 5. "They have as good a talent as there is out there outside of Kentucky."

That talent has turned out a 25-game home winning streak, fifth longest in school history. But the Wildcats weren't thrilled with their effort against Gardner-Webb after a two-point win over then-No. 15 San Diego State in the Maui Invitational championship game Nov. 26.

"For us to come from Maui and have a subpar performance is kind of making Maui look bad, like we took somebody for granted," said forward Stanley Johnson, who shared the scoring lead with guard Gabe York at 18 points apiece.

Fellow guards T.J. McConnell and Parker Jackson-Cartwright combined for 15 assists and one turnover on a night Arizona gave the ball away just eight times.

While it was a season-high scoring output for the Wildcats and their second-best shooting night at 56.3 percent, Gonzaga has routinely put up such numbers.

In a 76-57 home win over Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday, the Bulldogs came in under their 88.0 scoring average as well as their 29.4-point margin of victory. They're shooting 54.5 percent, third in the country, and Arizona showed some defensive holes against Gardner-Webb with 10 3-pointers allowed.

"We have to have a great performance to beat a team like Gonzaga because they're one of the nation's elite teams," coach Sean Miller said.

The Bulldogs have also been efficient with 10.7 turnovers per game and the nation's second-best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.85, behind Duke. They committed seven turnovers against the Lions.

Wesley's fellow transfer Kyle Wiltjer led all scorers with 20 points and is averaging 16.0 after sitting out last season to complete his move from Kentucky.

The 6-foot-10 forward will team with center Przemek Karnowski (7-1) and reserve forward Domantas Sabonis (6-10) to create an interesting matchup with the talented Arizona front line, which consists of Johnson (6-7), Brandon Ashley (6-9), center Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0) and reserve forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (6-7).

The Wildcats got 18 points off the bench from Hollis-Jefferson in the NCAA tournament matchup a season ago, while Karnowski led Gonzaga with 14 and 10 rebounds.

Miller knows the Bulldogs have added some key pieces, and his unbeaten nonconference run could be in jeopardy.

"It represents a tremendous amount," said Miller of the streak. "It's really, really hard to do. We've in essence gone ... 2 1/2 non-conference seasons and we haven't lost. By the way, we play Gonzaga next, so we all know that could change."

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