After Gonzaga's nine game winning streak fell flat on its face against Santa Clara, the Bulldogs once again have their backs against the wall. Reading national headlines is enough to turn your stomach: "Zags battle San Francisco for sole possession of second place in the WCC". While we all know it is early in conference play and that Gonzaga is still a very capable team, Thursday night's result was definitely an eye-opener. The weaknesses of this team were exposed in a very blunt fashion and there was an element of sloppiness that Santa Clara wouldn't let Gonzaga overcome.
I planned to write more on the Santa Clara game after I re-watched it on ESPN3. I tried to watch it this morning, got four minutes in, and closed my laptop. Not only was it painful to watch, but it really showed me everything I needed to see. In the first two minutes and change, Gonzaga committed four turnovers. Rob committed the first one as he tried to pass into the post to Elias. The second one was an Elias Harris charge. The third one was a Meech Goodson entry pass gone wrong. The fourth was a Steven Gray pass into the rafters of the Leavey Center. The gameplan at the outset was to establish Elias and Rob. After those first four turnovers, the interior game hit the back burner. A couple times Rob got free for dunks, but the Zags began settling for outside shots, which is nowhere near their strength. While Santa Clara played well, the 7-0 lead the Broncos built in the first few minutes was the product of unforced Gonzaga errors and it really did change the entire flow of the game.
quick primer for Zags-Dons following the jump...
Tonight, Gonzaga has an opportunity to get their first conference road win and they should be able to establish the inside game. Like the rest of the WCC, the Dons frontcourt can't match Gonzaga's size. What will be interesting to see, however, is the rebounding in this one. Although they are a bit undersized in stature, Perris Blackwell and Angelo Caloairo are both averaging about seven rebounds a game. Like we saw against SCU, rebounds and turnovers will be very important in this one. The Zags gave the Broncos far too many opportunities and while the Dons don't have Kevin Foster, they do have a few players that can fill it up. The Zags are clearly the better team from top to bottom but if they start slow once again tonight, the Dons have enough to keep it close.
One thing I will be curious to watch is if the gameplan fluctuates from Santa Clara. Will Mark Few once again design it up for Elias Harris early on or will he opt to let Rob and Steve get the game going for the Zags. San Francisco will be confident for a couple reasons. First, they saw a blueprint for the uspet on Thursday and don't forget that the last time Gonzaga was in War Memorial Gym, they left with a loss. You better believe that Rex Walters is beating that into his team's head. For the Zags it is as simple as not shooting yourself in the foot. Start with energy, limit the turnovers, and you can set the tempo early. I expect the Zags to get out of the Bay Area with a split and beat the Dons by a score of 75-65.