SEATTLE - If he were on a couch, with a controller in his hand, the answer would have been much easier for Arizona coach Sean Miller.
The 14-0 and 22-4 holes that the Wildcats dug for themselves en route to a 71-60 loss to Gonzaga on Saturday simply would not have happened.
"When I play at home with my kids on Xbox, and I get down, I reset the game," Miller said. "l feel like I needed to see if we can do that in this situation."
He tried. He could not.
Miller called timeouts about two minutes into both the first and second halves of Saturday's semi-neutral game at Key Arena, and he spent the entire game shuffling in all manner of lineups in an effort to disguise his team's weaknesses up front.
Nothing really worked, though the Wildcats did manage to fight back to within six points at several points in the second half after trailing by up to 20.
It was the lone bright spot in an otherwise disheartening game for the Wildcats that brought back memories of losses to San Diego State and Mississippi State last month. UA fell behind 21-4 to San Diego State en route to a loss that snapped its 22-game homecourt winning streak and, during its 67-57 loss to Mississippi State, the Wildcats were worn down by size mismatches inside.
The Bulldogs of Spokane did it not by going routinely to 7-footer Robert Sacre - a top concern for the Wildcats - but by allowing power forward Elias Harris to thrive in the manner he was expected to after a strong freshman season.
Harris had 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting, plus eight rebounds and a steal.
"This was definitely one of his better ones," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He played really, really well on the defensive end. … We were worried about their forwards attacking us off the dribble. He did a great job there. He rebounded and really attacked the basket."
It was apparent that the Zags were worried in particular about Solomon Hill - one of UA's most consistent players - who often drives efficiently to the basket and has also become the team's second-leading rebounder.
Gonzaga placed Sacre on Hill, which dared Hill to shoot from midrange or beyond.
The gamble paid off. Hill was 1 for 7 in the first half and missed all three three-pointers he attempted. As a team, Arizona was 10 for 32 overall and just 1 of 9 from three-point range before halftime.
"They guarded him with Sacre and played off him and when (they) do that, you have to answer the bell by making those shots," Miller said. "To me, that was one of the things that hurt us early. We missed a number of jump shots."
It wasn't shooting that bothered Miller the most, though. It was that, again, his team was essentially out-toughed inside, overmatched physically, even as he rotated Perry, Angelo Chol and Kyryl Natyazhko inside to find something that worked.
The Wildcats were out-rebounded 40-26, a margin that was established in the first half when Gonzaga beat them 27-13 on the boards, and shot 23 fewer free throws than the Bulldogs.
UA, in fact, shot only one free throw in the first half, a miss by Josiah Turner.
"We lost to a much bigger, more physical, stronger team," Miller said. "Their offensive rebounding, the physical nature, their advantage size-wise at a number of positions, was in place."
Gonzaga had 16 offensive rebounds, scoring 17 second-chance points off them while UA had only six second-chance points the entire game. What's more, the Bulldogs outscored UA 9-2 in second-chance points during the first half, effectively grabbing the spirit from the Wildcats just as the game was getting established.
"You say to yourself, 'We have 32 minutes left and look at that scoreboard,' " Miller said. "It's hard. It's daunting."
Senior guard Kyle Fogg said the entire game would have looked differently if the Wildcats had been able to get some of the early rebounds, but UA was hurt on the glass on both sides of the court.
While the Zags clearly had an advantage in size, they also, at least early, may have had an edge in intensity. Gonzaga was coming off losses to Illinois and Michigan State, and Arizona was the last remaining team from a high-major conference on its schedule.
"You can definitely say sometimes the ball isn't bouncing funny. But I think this one was on us," Fogg said. "Guys just weren't boxing out as hard. We've gotta go in there and rebound. We just weren't getting in there."
Freshman Nick Johnson said he didn't think Gonzaga necessarily wanted the game any more than UA did, but noticed something unmistakable about those first few minutes.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," Johnson said. "We took a while to adjust. We just needed to adjust."
Arizona didn't really adjust until midway through the second half, finally cutting Gonzaga's lead to just six at three different moments in the final minutes.
But just 16 seconds after Arizona pulled within 64-58, the final six-point deficit, Harris popped up again with a jumper to make it 66-58. Then, after a block by Sacre and subsequent rebound by Harris with 35 seconds left, Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos hit two free throws to put the game away … and set Miller back on a quest to find some other way to fix a problem that won't be easy to fix.
"We're not a big team," Miller said, "and we have to get better at the things we can control."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe
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