It was a win, Gonzaga is 1-0. Those are the good elements of tonight's game against Eastern Washington.
For lack of a better word, tonight's game was unexpected. The Bulldogs came out with a surprising starting lineup that included Mike Hart. Gary Bell was on the bench, Kevin Pangos was on the bench, and Mathis Monninghoff was on the bench. After 10 minutes, the Bulldogs had barely broken into double digits and the offense looked completely disjointed. In fact, the one saving grace in this game were the refs. The Eagles committed 33 fouls in the game compared to the Bulldogs 11. Gonzaga shot an incredible 51 times from the free throw stripe. The foul shooting was the difference as Gonzaga escaped with an eight point lead.
The question marks are numerous. Personally, the rotation was baffling. An eight man rotation that gave 30 minutes to Mike Hart and 28 combined minutes to Sam Dower and Gary Bell is nothing short of stunning. While Bell and Dower struggled to get going tonight, the scary part about these games is that great teams play the players that will help them beat the best teams on their schedule. Say what you want about the hustle Mike Hart exudes on the court, I will never buy into the fact that he is going to be the answer in March. Noticeably absent tonight were Mathis Monninghoff, Mathis Keita, and Ryan Spangler. Most of us assumed that at least two of the three would play big minutes. The trio never saw action.
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While the rotation was puzzling at best, perhaps the most concerning element of the game was how the Eagles torched the Bulldogs from deep. Eastern was 45% from three point range and they did it in a fashion that was so eerily similar to last year. There's not a doubt in my mind that the word is out on this team. It was obviously the Eagles biggest point on their gameplan to shoot from deep. With 29 attempts for the game, they constantly stretch the Zags defense and got easy looks. Colin Chiverton buried six deep balls and was rarely uncomfortable when shooting the ball. For as long as we've done the blog, Gonzaga's three point defense has always been suspect and this year seems to be right in line with recent trends.
The bright spot for me had to be the play of Elias Harris. Aside from a couple alley-oops, Harris worked hard for every point he got and was one of the few efficient Zags from the floor. While his counterpart Rob Sacre outscored Harris due to 18 free throw attempts, I couldn't help but be impressed with Harris. He appears to be back to freshman form; both in physique and attitude. He was stepping out, driving the lane, and attacking the hoop on tip ins. For one reason or another, the staff never seemed to focus on getting Harris the ball and yet he was incredibly effective.
If anything, this builds suspense for the WSU game on Monday. Gonzaga proved little tonight except that they are an extremely vulnerable program.