TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Facing the pressure of playing in one of college basketball’s most difficult road venues, Gonzaga’s Byron Wesley had three free throws to tie the game late in overtime.
The senior air-balled the first attempt, and then missed the next two. The last one was on purpose, but the damage was already done.
Wesley missed three free throws with 3.3 seconds left in overtime, punctuating a day of missed opportunities for No. 9 Gonzaga in a 66-63 loss to No. 3 Arizona on Saturday.
“I’m going to tell him (Wesley) I have 100 percent trust and confidence in him the next time he’s up there,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He’s been a great player for us this year and he’s a tough play, and I wouldn’t want anyone else on the line than him.”
Arizona (8-0) rallied from a poor-shooting first half and a couple of deficits in the second half to force overtime. T.J. McConnell, limited in the first half by foul trouble, scored six of his 12 points in the extra period, leading the Wildcats to their 26th straight home win.
Brandon Ashley had 14 points for Arizona, which made 14 of 24 shots after halftime to win its 35th straight regular-season non-conference game.
“Our defense was very, very good and that’s why we won,” coach Sean Miller said.
Gonzaga (7-1) shot well inside, but went 4 for 17 from 3-point range and had two key turnovers late in overtime.
Kyle Wiltjer led the Bulldogs with 15 points. Kevin Pangos had six assists, but was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.
“We missed shots the last couple possessions and that hurt us,” Few said. “They were able to make a shot and that’s what it came down to.”
Arizona rolled Gonzaga in the round of 32 in last season’s NCAA tournament, and the rematch was a marquee matchup of deep, talented teams butting heads in one of college basketball’s storied venues.
Arizona’s forte has been defense, holding the Wildcats together when their offense has struggled.
Gonzaga, which won the NIT Season Tip-Off, has gotten to this point behind one of the nation’s most efficient offenses.
Neither team did very much early on.
Wiltjer kicked off the game with an air ball on an open jumper, a prelude for what was a physical, don’t-give-an-inch first half.
Arizona hit 9 of 27 shots in the first half, pulling even at 27-all after Ashley scored five quick points and found Elliott Pitts for a kick-out 3-pointer.
“We had a dismal performance in the first half on offense,” Miller said. “It was our great defense that tied the game.”
Gonzaga struggled early on against Arizona’s all-over pressure. It found a rhythm for a short stint to go up seven, and then struggled again to finish the first half at 9 of 29 from the field.
The second half was completely different, with the teams trading athletic plays and big shots instead of clanks.
Gonzaga pushed the lead to 60-54 on a putback by Wiltjer, but Arizona fought back, tying it on a jumper by Ashley with 1:25 left.
Wiltjer had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but his turning 3-pointer from the corner just missed.
“Their defense did a great job on us tonight and we just did not get the best looks, myself included,” Pangos said. “This is just something we need to learn from.”
Pangos came into the game with reputation as one of the nation’s best point guards, averaging 12.3 points on 58 percent shooting with nearly six assists per game. Arizona all but shut him down by rotating McConnell, Gabe York, Pitts and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on him. Pangos went 1 for 3 from 3-point range.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs were playing their first matchup of top-10 teams since losing 83-74 at Memphis in 2005. … Gonzaga played without freshman point guard Josh Perkins, who broke his jaw against Georgia in the NIT semifinals. … Gonzaga had a 39-31 rebounding edge, including 14-7 on the offensive glass.
Arizona: Stanley Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski had 11 points each. … An animated Ashley shoved Wiltjers away after the two tangled going after a rebound in the second half.
Gonzaga hosts Washington State on Wednesday.
Arizona hosts Utah Valley on Tuesday.
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