No. 8 Gonzaga looks to get back on track vs. Texas-Arlington
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Gonzaga's early-season run through the gauntlet is over -- with mixed results.
Now, the No. 8 Bulldogs face three relatively easy foes, beginning with Texas-Arlington on Tuesday night in Spokane, Wash., before West Coast Conference play gets under way.
The Zags (9-2) ascended to the top spot in the country thanks to an 89-87 win over then-No. 1 Duke in the Maui Invitational final. Wins at noisy Creighton and against Washington's tricky 2-3 zone defense followed.
But then Gonzaga, which has been without backup point guard Geno Crandall since last month and last year's leading scorer, Killian Tillie, all season, had some flaws exposed.
"Defense is our main priority," point guard Josh Perkins told the (Spokane) Spokesman-Review after the Bulldogs' 103-90 loss to North Carolina on Saturday. "We score the ball well but if they're scoring with us it's never good.
"And we have to fix this rebounding thing, too. They were plus 20, which is unacceptable. That's a collective effort one through five."
The Zags couldn't hold a late lead in a Dec. 15 loss to then-No. 7 Tennessee and simply couldn't stop the Tar Heels. North Carolina had 14 offensive rebounds to Gonzaga's 16 on defense.
They tumbled seven spots in the Top 25 over the past two weeks after their first back-to-back losses since 2014.
The Volunteers' Admiral Scofield scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half, and North Carolina's Cameron Johnson hit six 3-pointers on the way to a career-high 25 points.
Perkins was held scoreless for the first time since Gonzaga's 2017 Final Four matchup with South Carolina.
"Obviously, I'm a little upset we lost last week and (Saturday), but put it in perspective: We've had the toughest schedule in America," Perkins said. "We're in good hands. Overall, the team morale is really good."
UT Arlington (3-7) visits the McCarthey Athletic Center ahead of North Alabama, Denver and Cal State Bakersfield to complete the Zags' non-conference schedule.
The Mavericks, who have finished with 20-plus wins in each of the past three seasons, come to Spokane with six straight losses, five of which came on the road.
First-year coach Chris Ogden is leading a program for the first time.
"Exciting, but also nerve-wracking at the same time," Ogden said of his coaching transition, according to the (Fort Worth) Star-Telegram. "You start thinking of what you are going to say at your press conferences, and then what you want your program to really believe in."
Junior guards Brian Warren (14.9 points per game) and Edric Dennis (14) are the Mavericks' leading scorers.
UT Arlington, which has played at home just once since Nov. 18, has two more road games before starting the Sun Belt Conference schedule at home on Jan. 5 against preseason favorite Georgia State.
Updated December 18, 2018