We mentioned in our game preview that Gonzaga might really benefit from their tight contest with Colorado yesterday. After sleepwalking through the first twenty minutes of play a day ago, the Zags played a great second half to squash the Buffaloes upset bid. Tonight, the Zags were able to carry that momentum over and delivered a rousing performance in Maui against the Badgers of Wisconsin. The final tally had Gonzaga with a 13 point victory and it was one of those games where Wisconsin hung around for a while but there was never any doubt who the better team was. Four of the Bulldogs' five starters scored in double figures tonight and Demetri Goodson was just on the outside with nine points.
The first ten minutes of tonight's game gave off the impression that this game was going to be a back and forth battle as Wisconsin did a nice job dictating the tempo of the game and matching whatever Gonzaga threw at them. It was a remarkably crisp start to the game. Both teams were shooting the ball nicely and the Zags were doing everything right. They pounded the ball into the paint early and established Rob and Elias all night long. At the eleven minute mark, the "old guys" showed up for Gonzaga and delivered the first knockout punch of the night. From 11:07 to 6:20, the Zags went on a 13-1 run and expanded the lead from one point to 13 points. Eleven of those points were converted by the veteran back court as Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray each had excellent games. From that point on, you could really argue that the game was over. Against Big Ten teams, a double digit first half lead is basically a rout. Wisconsin was able to bring the deficit down to single digits at a few times but it never felt like the Bulldogs were in danger.
Wisconsin's best effort to close the gap came in the middle of the second half as they brought the lead down to six. The Badgers took advantage of Robert Sacre's foul issues and Kelly Olynyk's rough defensive night and gave Gonzaga a taste of their own medicine. Big man Jon Leuer, who I completely underestimated coming into this game, was outstanding and showed great touch around the basket. He scored six points during this particular Wisconsin run and also was great on the boards. Rob re-entered the game when the lead was down to six and proceeded to convert a fantastic post move and draw the foul. He hit the free throw and the lead was back up to nine and the game was, for all intents and purposes, was over.
There were a number of outstanding individual efforts in tonight's Gonzaga win over Wisconsin. Continue reading after the jump to see what jumped out to us...
Here are a few random observations regarding individual performances:
-- Steven Gray has become a complete player. When he commits to the drive, there are few defenders that can stop him. He was 0-3 from behind the arc but was 7-8 when driving. His composure on the court is night and day from last year in that he doesn't let negative moments affect his game. He might not ever be a double double machine but he fills up a stat sheet like none other. Tonight he was great on the boards, pulling down five and also had three assists. He's not forcing up shots on offense and seems to have come to the realization that his three-point shot, while an asset, is not the best facet of his game.
-- I still have to pinch myself a bit when I think about what Elias Harris brings to this team. I know there are a ton of great freshman out there when you think about John Wall, Lance Stephenson, Tiny Gallon etc etc but, to be honest, I'm at the point where I'd take Elias over all of them. I really underestimated Harris and his contributions. I have as much confidence in Elias with the ball as I do when Matt or Steven has it. His versatility continues to show as he hit a three-pointer tonight after thinking about it for a while. He finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds and only had one foul. His defense was stellar all evening and he definitely does not show any signs of having "freshman feet". It appears that Rob Sacre is going to battle foul issues all year so Elias is going to really have to commit himself to playing as smart as possible and not taking too many risks.
-- Speaking of Rob Sacre, I guess I'll forgive his foul trouble because he was amazingly efficient when he was in the game. On four shot attempts, Rob finished with 13 points. This is great news for a couple of reasons. First off, it means that he is hitting his shots, and secondly, it means he is getting to the charity stripe. Rob was 7-7 from the line this evening and also had six boards. When you consider that he only played half the game (literally), that's a pretty damn good stat line. With that being said, I'm sure Mark Few is telling him that he can't put his team at risk by getting in foul trouble. He means way too much to this team to be saddled with foul issues.
-- Great to see Bol Kong get into the game during some meaningful minutes. The Sudan native checked in about mid-way through the first half and played a nice game. He only totaled 10 minutes but was 2-3 from the floor and had a rebound. His defensive abilities are still lacking but I expect him to be heavily involved in the rotation by the start of WCC play.
-- Much like Steven Gray, Matt Bouldin just continues to plug away and put together another solid performance. Bouldin finished with 18 points of 5-13 shooting but contributed in a number of other ways. He grabbed five rebounds and passed out six assists this evening and was a constant force all night. It was great to see the designed half court plays to get Matt posted up. He truly shines when he can exploit smaller guards in the paint.
-- I rarely like to toot my own horn but I feel like I must point out the fact that EDZ and I are on fire with these game predictions. Against IPFW, EDZ missed his pregame prediction by one point and I followed him up with a similar effort. In the game preview, I said that the Zags would be tested early and pull away late for a 74-62 win. One damn point!!!
That's all for tonight! Next up is the Maui title game against the Bearcats of Cincinnati who have breezed through to the finals and have been just as impressive as the Bulldogs. They will present a whole different spread of issues for Mark Few's Zags as they are based around athletic play and an up tempo brand of basketball. It should be a terrific match up as Gonzaga looks to win their first ever Maui title.