I'm starting to wonder if we will look back at one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in Gonzaga history and remember the Lewis and Clark game as the most important of the season. As strange as it may sound, it seems the dominant win over Lewis and Clark gave this team confidence following a rather demoralizing three-game losing streak. Since the 103-61 win, the Zags have knocked off three teams that will likely be playing in the NCAA Tournament, with this most recent victory over Oklahoma State being easily the most impressive of the season.
As I mentioned in the preview I wrote before the Lafayette game, it has become clear that this isn't your typical Gonzaga team, and frankly, I think this season could be a bit of a turning point for the program. In just the last four games, I have seen this group work hard to shed a long-standing reputation of Gonzaga being a soft program that could only win games by trying to run-and-gun the opponent. However, since allowing 81 points in the loss against Notre Dame, Mark Few and his team haven't allowed any opponent to score more than 64 points, with the last three not even reaching the 60-point mark.One of the big changes that I have noticed is the focus on scoring in the interior. Gonzaga built its reputation as "Guard University" due to great play from the point guard position. This 2010-11 edition of the Zags is completely different and is built on the duo of Rob Sacre and Elias Harris. With those two both playing some of their best basketball of the season, scoring 16 points and 22 points respectively, it frees up the guards on the perimeter to focus on defense. This strategy was particularly effective against the 'Pokes, with their starting backcourt scoring nine points on 3-14 shooting. As much as we like to sit and complain about what Demetri Goodson doesn't do well on the court, it is about time that we recognize him as one of the elite perimeter defenders Gonzaga has ever had at the point guard position.
If there is anything to take from this game, it's the fact that the rotation is effectively being cut down to about eight guys. Mangisto Arop clearly demonstrated that he needs to be on the court, as he played probably his best game as a Zag. I'm not sure if Arop should be starting over The Hoff when he returns from his ankle injury, but it seems like that is the one position where there is clearly some sort of platoon. While I have been calling for Sam Dower to get more minutes, if this commitment to defense is truly something the coaching staff is going to stick with, then Sam needs to earn his minutes by displaying consistency on the defensive end when he is on the court.
It will be interesting to see if this group can carry over the momentum against Wake Forest tomorrow. It is vital to keep the energy high heading into what should be an incredibly interesting opening game of WCC play against Portland. However, for the first time in a long time, I can openly admit that I am happy with the direction this team is headed.