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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats pull road upset over No. 13 Gonzaga 68-63

Mike Christy
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Josh Perkins (13) gets tripped up in the pressure defense of Arizona Wildcats guard Kadeem Allen (5) and Arizona Wildcats guard Elliott Pitts (24) during the second half of the No. 19 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s NCAA college basketball game at McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash. Arizona used a second-half comeback to win 68-63. Photo taken Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

SPOKANE, Wash. — Down double digits at halftime to No. 19 Gonzaga, Arizona head coach Sean Miller posed his team a challenge.

“How hard are you willing to work,” Miller asked the team. “How hard are you willing to give all your effort?”

Despite playing on the road without center Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats bought into Miller’s message in the second half and slowly chipped away at Gonzaga’s lead, before taking charge in the game’s closing minutes.

As the final buzzer sounded, Arizona walked off the McCarthey Athletic Center with a 68-63 victory to stun the home crowd.

Arizona pulled off the win in conventional manner. Gabe York and Allonzo Trier delivered clutch baskets throughout the second half, the Wildcats buckled down defensively and Miller put his team in position to win in the closing minutes.

York led Arizona with 18 points, 14 of which came in the second half, while Trier pitched in 14. Ryan Anderson added another 13, including a mid-range jumper in the final minute that clinched the Wildcats an upset victory.

“We won every single four-minute war in the second half so that was big for us,” Trier said. “We played very consistent and didn’t let up.”

It was a layup from Trier with 8:20 to go that put Arizona ahead at last.

Gonzaga led practically from the opening tip through the midway point of the second half, with Kyle Wiltjer’s 33 points lead the way. The first team All-American teamed up with Domantas Sobanis to score over 80 percent of the Bulldogs’ points.

Playing without Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona struggled to slow down either forward all of the first half. Wiltjer did the most damage, scoring 20 points on 8-12 field goal attempt, while Sabonis had little trouble scoring over Ristic down.

Nonethleless, Arizona hung around for the first 10 minutes the half, as Gonzaga led by a 16-15 margin with 9:40 to go. That’s when the Bulldogs went on a 10-0 run all spurred by Wiltjer and Sabonis.

It didn’t help that during that period, Arizona went on a six minute stretch in which it didn’t make a single shot.

“We lost every single four minute segment of the first half,” Miller said. “Very seldom have we been 0-5. Usually you get one of them.”

However, six points from Trier in the closing 1:23 kept the score from getting out of hand.

Out of the locker room, York scored quick eight points in the second half’s first four minutes. By the 15:56 mark, Arizona had closed Gonzaga’s once 14 point lead to 45-42 margin.

Arizona finally broke through with the first lead of its own when a Trier layup with 8:20 to go put the Wildcats ahead 58-57.“I think sometimes if you’ve been fighting up hill and you’ve never had the lead, you start to look up there and ask yourself if it’s ever going to happen,” Miller said. “If you cross over and get that lead, it opens up the confidence that we can win now.”

Indeed, Arizona only relinquished the lead once the rest of the game, and that was only for a single possession.Defensively, the Wildcats held Gonzaga at bay by limiting the Bulldogs’ guards from seeing too many open looks and switching up their coverage of Wiltjer.

Miller put in Elliott Pitts to guard the All-American in the second half, a move that paid dividends.

“We put him in there and I thought he changed the dynamics of the quickness and how it looked,” Miller said. “He slowed him down.”

Wiltjer still managed to score 13 points in the second half, but it took him 15 shot attempts to do so. Sabonis, who dominated Arizona inside in the first half, was held to six points after halftime.

The Wildcats now have a few days off before they return home to face Fresno State on Wednesday night at McKale Center.

Watch Sean Miller postgame:

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