Gonzaga's first must-win game came a bit earlier than most of us expected. Facing the prospects of a three-game skid to start the year, Mark Few had to find some way to pull out a win and get his team out of Kansas City with some momentum. The Zags responded with a nice win over a resilient Marquette team to get their record up to 3-2 on the season.
While the game wasn't always pretty, particularly in the second half, I thought we saw some nice moments from this team that can hopefully be built on. First and foremost, Elias Harris had an outstanding first half of action. Elias scored 15 points in the first half on 6-9 shooting. He was active and for the first time of the season, he did not appear to be a mere decoy on the floor. The second half was a bit of a struggle for Harris as he fell back into fade-away jumpers far too often but he still finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. It is still pretty clear to me that he is working his way back to 100% (and may be further away than we think) but this performance has to be a major confidence builder; both for player and coach.
Gonzaga also got a major boost from someone we all thought would step up this season. Without his energy off the bench, the Zags could have left KC 0-2. Keep reading after the jump for more....
In the first four games of the season, Mangisto Arop was largely pedestrian. Struggling to get off the bench, Manny appeared to be lost in the shuffle. Tonight, however, Arop stepped up to the plate and really led this team to a win. He finished with 15 points on 7-9 shooting and, as usual, did great work on the glass. Unofficially he had four boards but I would wager he had his hands on at least five more. What I liked from Manny is that he enforced his will on offense. Far too often he has deferred to teammates but tonight he drove to the rim, took the open jumper, and finished strong. This was easily his best game of the season and possibly his Gonzaga career. Similar to Elias, this is a game Manny must build on.
Unlike last night, we saw Gonzaga win the stat categories that have plagued them. First, they allowed Marquette to only hit 6-21 from three. This was due in large part to an outstanding zone defense. While the zone is typically conducive to giving up the deep ball, Gonzaga's perimeter guards (specifically Manny, Meech, and Gray) rotated effectively and did a nice job holding the Golden Eagles. The zone defense was huge for the Zags in general. Marquette shot 39% from the floor as the Zags did a great job stepping into passing lanes and not allowing anyone in space. One of the better overall defensive efforts I can remember in awhile for a Gonzaga team. Rebounding was another big win for the Bulldogs tonight. Unofficially, Gonzaga outrebounded the Golden Eagles 44-28. Demetri Goodson had nine boards while Rob and Elias finished with 8 and 7, respectively.
There's no doubting that this team still has a long way to go. Too many times there were opportunities for the Bulldogs to really pull away but they failed to capitalize. We've seen Gonzaga struggle with this before, particularly in West Coast Conference play. However, it is important to realize that this win came against a very resilient Marquette team with one of the more underrated players in the country in Jimmy Butler. The Golden Eagles will be a good looking win for this team come March. The key now is for this confidence to carry over starting with Eastern Washington a week from now. With Illinois, Washington State, and Notre Dame all on the horizon, the Zags have a great opportunity to make up some of their lost ground.