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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona and Gonzaga face off in huge college basketball match up


Arizona men’s basketball forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) during Arizona’s 91-65 win against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday in McKale Center. Hollis-Jefferson and the Wildcats have a major matchup with the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday in McKale Center.

No. 3 Arizona men’s basketball will have its biggest test of the season when No. 9 Gonzaga comes to McKale Center. If there was ever a measuring-stick game for the Wildcats, this would be it.

“They have a talented team and, no question, we’re going to be in for a huge challenge on Saturday,” UA men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said. “On our end, we have to have a great performance to beat a team like Gonzaga, because they’re one of the nation’s elite teams.”

Gonzaga comes into this matchup as one of the most explosive offensive teams in the nation. Leading the way for the Bulldogs is Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer with 16 points per game.

Wiltjer, the most undervalued member of the 2012 National Champion Kentucky team, transferred to Gonzaga after it was clear that John Calipari’s recruits would get more playing time than the 6-foot-9 power forward. That’s not to say he’s not talented enough to start, because he definitely is.

As a power forward with range, Wiltjer is third on the team in 3-point makes with nine behind sharpshooters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.

Speaking of Pangos and Bell Jr., few teams in the nation can boast a better shooting backcourt than the Bulldogs can. Each is able to fire off rounds of deep balls that are enough to cripple most defenses on their own.

In that regard, Pangos is one of the most feared shooters in the nation. The 6-foot-2 guard may be averaging only 12.3 points per game, but his shooting percentages are off the charts. His marks — 58 percent from the field, 90 percent from the charity stripe and 46 percent from behind the arc — are reminiscent of Steve Nash.

After allowing 10 3-pointers against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday, Miller said his team has to protect the perimeter better in order to stay competitive with Gonzaga.

“We don’t want to give up 10 3’s, especially at 35 percent; that’s too high,” Miller said. “We’ll look at the film [and] figure out what we did wrong.”

From Arizona’s side, this game is more about seeing how effective the team is against premier competition. While it’s played solid teams, the only notable win was the 61-59 victory over then-No. 15 San Diego State in Hawaii.

Considering the Pac-12 Conference as a whole is down talent-wise, these impactful nonconference games are critical for Arizona’s tournament resume. And let’s be real:

It’s all about the tournament for the Wildcats.

They are behind an offense led by Stanley Johnson at 14.1 points per game and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at 13.4 points per game, respectively. The wing duo has stepped up in a big way for a team that desperately needed a scoring punch.


Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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