Two observations after Arizona rallies to defeat Gonzaga

Two observations after Arizona rallies to defeat Gonzaga

Arizona silenced a roaring road crowd, overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and handed Gonzaga a rare home loss.

The Wildcats defeated the Zags 68-63 on Saturday afternoon behind the scoring of Gabe York and Ryan Anderson, a dominant performance on the offensive glass and a strong second-half defensive effort.

Arizona will leave feeling good about the early-season progress its new-look team appears to be making. Gonzaga will leave worried about its turnover-prone guards and its inability to hold second-half leads. Here are two observations about both programs:


The last time his team had a must-score possession, Arizona coach Sean Miller had center Dusan Ristic set a top of the key ball screen for point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright in hopes of creating space for him to create. The result was a turnover that doomed the Wildcats to their first loss of the season eight days ago against Providence.

Miller ran the exact same play with his team up three at Gonzaga, but this time the two key figures involved were Arizona's two most trustworthy offensive players. Ryan Anderson set the ball screen for Gabe York, resulting in a game-clinching jumper in the lane from Anderson with 21 seconds to go.

What that reflects is that Miller is finally starting to figure out who should have what role on a revamped team that lost four starters to the NBA last season and the fifth to an ankle injury last week. Anderson is clearly Arizona's best player and most dangerous interior scorer and York has emerged as the Wildcats' most reliable guard because of his outside shooting and his decision making with the ball in his hands.

Anderson scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds against Gonzaga, the sixth time in seven games that he has tallied double figures. York had 14 of his 18 points in the second half including four key 3-pointers.

Miller also has clearly decided he has to play Allonzo Trier heavy minutes and live with the freshman's occasional mental miscues and defensive lapses. Trier started and logged 35 minutes on Saturday, taking advantage of his straight-ahead speed to score most of his 14 points by attacking the rim off the dribble.

Arizona's improving defense and already elite rebounding will get a boost when Kaleb Tarczewski returns from his ankle injury, but expect the Wildcats' offensive identity to remain the same. Anderson and York are Arizona's best offensive players and Trier has the highest upside. When the Wildcats need a bucket in a half-court set, the ball probably needs to be in the hands of one of those three guys.


When Mark Few spoke with me at the WCC's tip-off luncheon in October, his biggest concern about this year's team was that it could not take care of the ball the way last year's did.

Gonzaga finished in the top 30 nationally in turnover percentage last season, but the Zags graduated their entire starting backcourt.

Few's worries look prescient a month into the season with Gonzaga 289th in turnover percentage. The Zags struggled with Arizona's ball pressure and finished with 16 turnovers, fueling the Wildcats' comeback.

Gonzaga might have survived the turnovers had complementary scorers emerged in support of Kyle Witljer and Domantas Sabonis, but those two instead combined for all but 12 of the Zags' points. When Arizona began to double team Wiltjer in the post and close out quicker on him on pick-and-pops, none of the Gonzaga guards took advantage by hitting open shots.

Josh Perkins went 2-for-9 from the field and had as many turnovers as assists. Wings Kyle Dranginis, Eric McClellan and Silas Melson went a combined 1-for-8 from the field. Bryan Alberts might be Gonzaga's best shooter besides Wiltjer, but Few didn't trust him to log more than two minutes because he isn't good enough in other facets just yet.

While Gonzaga's habit of letting big halftime leads slip away against quality opponents is concerning, the reality is that trend is symptomatic of the above issues. Not many teams that turn the ball over frequently and take ill-advised shots are adept at holding leads and closing out games.

Gonzaga will probably be frustrated by losing at home in a game that was so winnable, but setbacks like this were inevitable after four-year starters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell both graduated. The hope for the Zags has to be that their backcourt improves and matures as the season unfolds.

If Perkins is making better decisions by March and the wings are knocking down open shots, Gonzaga will be a formidable team and tough out in the NCAA tournament. If not, it won't matter how good the frontcourt is. This team won't be able to match last year's Elite Eight run.

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!