College Basketball Game of the Week: Gonzaga vs. Arizona
After a few crazy weeks to start off the college basketball season, conference play has begun in earnest. However, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be gifted some out-of-conference matchups worth setting an alarm for. The No. 6 Gonzaga Bulldogs will travel to the McKale Center Saturday night to take on the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats in a battle of west coast programs.
The two teams played last season in the Maui Invitational, where the Bulldogs proved victorious 91-74, reaching a 5-0 start to the season as the then-No. 3 team in the country.
Arizona is looking to finish near the top of the Pac-12 after a somewhat disappointing season last year, while Gonzaga is rolling along despite losing Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell: significant losses from a team that made a deep NCAA Tournament run last year.
The two teams are offensive juggernauts, both averaging around 85 points per game. Arizona is led by star freshman forward Zeke Nnaji, the team leader in both points and rebounds with 16.6 6.7, respectively. Nnaji is virtually unstoppable from inside the 3-point line, averaging 74.4% from two-point range. The Wildcats are coming off their first loss of the season, falling to then-No. 18 Baylor 63-58 after the Bears stifled Arizona’s offense. Freshman guard Nico Mannion shot just 3-for-14 from the field but still led Arizona’s scoring with 15 points. The Wildcats have hit the 90-point mark in five of their games this season, and Mannion is a big reason for that. He’s stepped up big for a team that has needed production from its incoming freshmen, and he has provided with multiple double-digit outings.
Gonzaga is also one of the nation’s best offenses, but the Bulldogs too enter this game with a loss, having been beaten handily by Michigan 82-64 in Battle 4 Atlantis. Fortunately for Gonzaga, there’s still a lot to love. Sophomore forward Filip Petrusev has been a force for the Bulldogs this season, averaging 15.8 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game. His 22 points were a catalyst in Gonzaga’s 73-72 overtime win over Oregon. Experienced Junior Corey Kispert is Petrusev’s fellow member of the Bulldogs’ backcourt, and he provides another weapon for head coach Mark Few to deploy. Kispert is averaging 13.7 points per game and four assists per game. Senior big man Killian Tillie also adds to a great frontcourt, posting 13.7 points and five rebounds per contest. Tillie just recently posted a superb performance in a victory over Washington, filling almost the entire stat sheet with 15 points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals and a block.
This should prove to be an entertaining battle for those staying up late on the east coast on Saturday. These two teams can score points in bunches and will likely be trading shots for much of the game. The result should come down to a few key plays where one team will show that it wants the game more through a standout effort.
Prediction: Arizona 87, Gonzaga 84
Jeremy Ganes is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.