Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke leaps over Arizona forward Ryan Luther during the first half. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs outscored UA 54-29 in the second half to advance to the Maui Invitational title game.

LAHAINA, Hawaii — When the Arizona Wildcats made 19 first-half free throws on top of Justin Coleman’s surging offense, they were in position for a shocking upset over third-ranked Gonzaga in a Maui Invitational semifinal game Tuesday.

The Wildcats led 45-37 at halftime, then 13 early in the second half while Coleman went on to tie his career-high of 28 points. But then, well, things changed in a hurry. Gonzaga’s defense tightened up, its offense gained confidence and the Zags wound up rolling to a 91-74 win.

UA coach Sean Miller and Gonzaga coach Mark Few alike credited defensive switches the Zags made in the second half to both cut down UA’s offense and reduce fouls. Arizona went to the line 22 times in the first half and only eight times in the second.

“It was an adjustment that worked,” Miller said of the Zags’ second half scheme. “We’re not a seasoned group. We’re not a group that’s been through a lot of different things together. We’ll learn from this game and grow from it.”

Arizona dropped to 4-1 and will now play Auburn in the Maui Invitational third-place game on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. Gonzaga (5-0) will face Duke for the championship.

After scoring 18 points against Iowa State on Monday, Coleman tied his career scoring high set last season against Chattanooga while playing for Samford. He was 7 for 12 from the field and hit a career-high six 3-pointers on nine tries.

Shooting 41.2 percent from the field, Arizona also had 19 points from Brandon Randolph and 15 from Brandon Williams. Rui Hachimura had 24 points for Gonzaga while Norvell added 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The Wildcats led by eight at halftime in part because they made 19 of 22 free throws in the first half, but after UA took a 50-37 lead early in the second half, Gonzaga’s offense cranked up early in the second half on a fast-break dunk by Zach Norvell and UA’s advantage at the free-throw line disappeared.

“They did a heck of a job making adjustments on the fly in the second half,” Few said. "We lost our way a little bit with some silly turnovers and we fouled way too much. We changed some things defensively that really helped keep us out of foul trouble.”

The Arizona bench reacts after scoring against No. 3 Gonzaga during the first half Tuesday. UA led by 13 points at one point but lost 91-74.

Not only was UA no longer getting regular trips to the free-throw line, but one of the fouls called against the Wildcats early in the second half became a turning point. With 12:03 left and Arizona leading 53-52, Jeter couldn’t get an entry pass, and was called for fouling Gonzaga’s Hachimura under the basket as he fought for it.

Then, as he sprawled on the floor, Jeter looked up and complained to an official. Jeter was whistled for a technical foul, giving him his fourth and fifth fouls to send him out of the game. Not only that, but Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell turned it into a four-point play, making his two technical foul shots and, when the Zags got the ball back afterward, went in for a layup to give Gonzaga a 56-53 lead.

“I think the emotions got the best of Chase,” Miller said. “He has to control his emotions. We’re not a deep team and losing him didn’t help. It really gave them an extra surge in momentum at a very unique time in the game.”

The loss cost Jeter a chance to face Duke in the Maui Invitational final, after Jeter transferred to UA in 2017 after two seasons with the Blue Devils.

Coleman hit a 3-pointer to tie it back up at 56 but the Zags had momentum at that point, while UA was forced to play Ryan Luther at center without Jeter. Gonzaga pulled ahead 71-65 by the time Norvell stole the ball from Coleman and scored a rebound basket on the Zags’ ensuing possession.

“We got tested and pushed to the brink, so that’s a great sign for us,” Few said.

Arizona guard Justin Coleman scored a career-high 28 points in the Wildcats’ 17-point loss Tuesday. He hit 6 of 9 three-pointers.

In the first half, Coleman continued his offensive tear with 17 points and Arizona made 19 of 22 free throws to take to a 45-37 halftime lead over.

Williams added 11 points for Arizona in the first 20 minutes, while Hachimura led Gonzaga with nine points and four rebounds.

The Wildcats allowed Gonzaga to shoot 46.4 percent from the field in the first half and were outrebounded 19-16. But UA kept the Zags to just 2-of-11 3-point shooting, while the Wildcats went to the line more often than Gonzaga and took advantage of it.

While UA made 19 free throws in the first 20 minutes, Gonzaga hit 9 of 15, giving the Wildcats 10 more points at the line.

The Wildcats’ defense allowed the Zags to shoot over 50 percent for the first 10 minutes of the half but tightened up late, keeping Gonzaga scoreless for over three minutes.

Arizona built its largest lead, 33-28, after Randolph charged through traffic for a layup with 6:22 left and made it a seven-point lead when Jeter scored inside, prompting Few to call timeout to the wild cheers of the 600 or so UA fans at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Coleman picked up where he left off offensively after scoring a season-high 18 points on Monday against Iowa State. He had 11 points through the first 11 minutes of the game, making 3 of 5 3-pointers he took to that point.

Each of Coleman’s 3s gave UA a lead in a game that changed leads 15 times through the first 12 minutes.


Bruce is a veteran Star sports reporter who has also worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He graduated from Northwestern University and has an MBA from Thunderbird.