December 04, 2015

Though Arizona has achieved most of the success in its budding rivalry with Gonzaga, its toughest challenge of the series may lie ahead.

The No. 19 Wildcats face a difficult spot for their first true road game of the season, Saturday's showdown with a 13th-ranked Bulldogs team that's eager to avenge a frustrating loss from a year ago.

These two powerhouse programs combined for one of the more entertaining games of last season's nonconference schedule, a 66-63 Wildcats overtime win in Tucson on Dec. 6, 2014 that improved Arizona to 5-1 in six matchups with the Bulldogs.

None of those games have taken place at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where Gonzaga (5-1) has won 43 of 44 since an 85-74 loss to then-No. 13 Illinois in December 2012. The Bulldogs' lone series win was 71-60 in Seattle in December 2011.

The Wildcats (6-1) will have a far different look than last season's squad that finished 34-4 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, as well as the 2013-14 team that routed Gonzaga 84-61 in the third round en route to another regional final.

Arizona's current roster accounted for only 21 of its 66 points in last year's meeting and 11 of that total came from center Kaleb Tarczewski, sidelined into January by a stress reaction in his left foot.

With the 7-footer unavailable for the Wooden Legacy tournament semifinal, the Wildcats allowed now-No. 23 Providence to shoot 50.0 percent in a 69-65 loss Nov. 27. They were much better in Sunday's third-place game, limiting Boise State to 39.6 percent in a 68-59 victory.

''This was our best defensive performance of the year," coach Sean Miller said. "We had some guys really, really step up on defense.''

At full strength, Gonzaga poses a different challenge than the high-scoring but perimeter-oriented Broncos. The Bulldogs possess two quality big men that are shooting at least 59 percent from the field in 6-11 Domantas Sabonis (13.5 points per game) and 7-1 center Przemek Karnowski, though the latter missed Wednesday's 69-60 win at Washington State with back spasms.

Kyle Wiltjer helped offset Karnowski's absence by scoring 20 of his 22 points in the first half and combining with guard Josh Perkins for a 7-of-12 showing from 3-point range.

"He gets like that in practice sometimes," coach Mark Few said of Wiltjer's first-half binge. "We needed every one of them."

Wiltjer's 19.3 points per game lead Gonzaga and he had 15 in last year's meeting in Tucson, though the Kentucky transfer finished 6 of 16 from the floor and 1 of 6 on 3s. Karnowski made 5 of 7 shots in a 10-point, 11-rebound effort.

Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson (16.0 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and 3-point specialist Gabe York (13.6 ppg) have been the headliners of an overall balanced attack for Arizona. Five healthy Wildcats are averaging at least 8.0 points and all finished in double figures against Boise State.

The schools announced Wednesday they will extend their home-and-home series in 2019 and 2020. The programs are slated to play at Staples Center next season.

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