Gonzaga's escape effort yesterday against Colorado may have been exactly what this team needed.
Obviously, it would have been great for the Zags to come out and dominate the Buffs and deliver a complete performance but yesterday's 15 point comeback win over CU gave this team another experience that they can build on as we move forward. I usually don't like comparing teams of different seasons but I remember being very concerned yesterday because I wasn't sure if anyone on this team would be able to pick Gonzaga up off the mat and battle back. For most of the summer we talked about leadership and debated what, if any, player would be the primary leader for this team. Yesterday it became pretty clear that Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin have the ability to put this team on their back and win basketball games.
Tonight's game against Wisconsin presents a whole mess of new problems, however. The Badgers had a four point win of their own last night as they took down Arizona in the late night game of the Maui Invitational. Wisconsin got exactly what they needed from star guard Trevon Hughes as he netted 24 points for Bo Ryan's club to give them the victory over an inconsistent Arizona team.
Under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has had outstanding success. He has a 76% winning percentage as a head coach which ranks in the top five of all active coaches. His teams are always well coached, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In the first half of last night's game, Arizona only converted five of their field goal attempts and their youth was very frustrated with the Badgers' brand of intense defense. For as good as Trevon Hughes is, the rest of the team is pretty average offensively. Forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil are solid post players but both have the tendency to pick up silly fouls. Leuer fouled out last night in 10 minutes of action and Nankivil had four personals. For this reason, Hughes really has to be a star and that is what he did last night. A very inconsistent player, Trevon has shown glimpses of greatness at Wisconsin but he is not a very "heady" player. Typically he follws up a great play with a bad play but he's one of those guys that Ryan has to keep on the court because he can explode at any moment.
If you thought Colorado did a nice job of defending Gonzaga yesterday, wait until tonight. The Badgers will cause more problems for Robert Sacre and Elias Harris in the post and will really try and slow Gonzaga's fast break attempts. The good news for the Bulldogs is that it appears they have a pretty distinct talent advantage over the Badgers. Also, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Colorado may have woken a sleeping giant. I don't expect Gonzaga's front court to play as poorly as yesterday and I think Elias Harris and Rob Sacre will really try and pound the ball against the smaller Badger front court. Wisconsin's desire to play a half court game means that the post guys will get plenty of looks and it's important for Mark Few to get his bigs off to a hot start. If a team like Wisconsin gets up on the Bulldogs early, it might be a long, boring, and frustrating evening for Gonzaga fans because Wisconsin can slow this game down and has no problem with winning a game and only scoring 65 points.
After watching the first day and a half of Maui, I have little doubt that Gonzaga is the most talented team on the island. While Wisconsin has a solid core of players to go along with Bo Ryan, I think that talent wins out in tonight's game and Gonzaga proves to be too much. Motivation will play a huge role in this game for the Bulldogs and I think that Mark Few will establish Sacre and Harris early and Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin will pick up where they left off last night. Demetri Goodson's defense of Trevon Hughes will also be vital to this team's success but I have little doubt it Meech's ability to defend a team's big time player. After getting Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil in early foul trouble, I think that Gonzaga will win comfortably tonight in Maui and move on to the championship game with a score of 74-62.