Now that Gonzaga nation has had a couple of hours to sit back and contemplate GU's first loss of the season, it's time to disect the reasons behind this defeat. Obviously there is not one reason why the Zags fell today, but its important to acknowledge and explore what the key factors were that led to this tough loss.
Reason #1) Reliance on the 3 point shot
Anyone who has followed the sport of basketball has heard the old adage, "live by the 3, die by the 3". If you watched the game earlier today, it is clear just how true this statement can be. For the game, the Zags shot 6-20 (30%) from behind the arc. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this was the tremendous success that the team had when they attacked the Arizona zone. However, at key points throughout the game, Gonzaga settled for the open three, which was exactly what the Arizona Wildcats wanted.
"We were having a heck of a time having a ‘4’ or ‘5’ flash and get a catch, turn and face," Few said. "When we did that, we shot layins and wide open 3s. But then there was a lot of disappearing by our 4s and 5s and that hurt us and put a lot of stress on our guards."
The team found their greatest success when Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye would flash to the middle of the zone. Yet in the final minutes, Jeremy Pargo, Steven Gray, and Matt Bouldin decided to settle for the three instead of penetrating the zone and trying to draw contact. It's vital that this team understands that there are going to be some nights when their shot isn't following, and on these nights they must attack the rim early and often.
Reason #2) The play of Josh Heytvelt and Jeremy Pargo
The terrific play of the seniors, and especially Josh Heytvelt and Jeremy Pargo, has been one of the keys to the tremendous success of this team. Tonight we saw what can happen when these two leaders don't play at the highest level.
"We didn’t play very well, I didn’t play very well," Heytvelt said. "I give credit to Arizona for coming out and playing harder than us and executing toward the end."
This quote pretty much sums up the type of night Josh Heytvelt had. It seemed that he was a step slow the entire game, and when you are matching up with a player the caliber of Jordan Hill, that can be deadly. While Josh did have one of his better rebounding games of the season, he seemed tentative on the offensive end throughout the game. It was frustrating to watch, as he didn't possess any of the swagger that had been on display throughout the season.
Wise, who hit four 3s and was a handful to defend one-on-one, added to Gonzaga’s stress. He had 21 points and four assists in 40 minutes.
"You look at the numbers," Pargo said, "and he destroyed me tonight."
This was the most surprising development of the game. There is no denying that Nic Wise is a quality player, but I really expected Jeremy to outplay him by a mile. For the first time this season, it seemed that Jeremy didn't let the game come to him, and instead began forcing plays that weren't there. He also seemed hesitant to be selfish and burden the scoring load. Jeremy must recognize that there are going to be stretches in any given game, where he is going to have to put this team on his back and score the basketball.
Reason #3) Perhaps Fatigue has set in
Few set up his schedule to toughen the Bulldogs for the challenges of March. The Zags have also faced Tennessee, Maryland and Oklahoma State in Orlando and Indiana in Indianapolis, and on Saturday they'll play No. 2 Connecticut in Seattle.
"High-level competition in a neutral-officiated arena in somebody's backyard," he said. "That's why I do it, and it's always turned out well for us."We haven't played at home in a month," he said. "And it's not like we've been playing Little Sisters of the Poor either."
It's important to remember that the team hasn't played a game in the state of Washington since November 18th. Since then, the Zags have been to Orlando, Indiana, and Phoenix. I think it's fair to think that fatigue might have finally set in. I know that when the Zags rallied to finally tie the score, I thought that they were on their way to a victory. However, after putting all that energy into getting back in the game, the Zags were forced to play on fumes the rest of the way. Finally being able to play in front of a home crowd the next three games should do a world of good for this team.
This loss is not the end of the world. Arizona played a great game, and their big three of Wise, Hill, and Budinger was better then advertised. This game provides the coaching staff with ample areas that they can focus on in practice and look to improve. This will only bring the team closer together, and I think you will see some of the best basketball this team has played in the next two games against Texas Southern and UConn.