The story going into last night was that Przemek Karnowski didn't even travel with the team, missing his sixth-straight game with a back injury. There have been some obvious struggles on offense, and not having Karnowski roaming around in the middle amplifies them.
The story after last night was that Domantas Sabonis has stepped up more than anyone could expect after Karnowski has gone down, and when he has games like last night, it makes Karnowski's absence a lot easier to swallow.
Sabonis finished last night with 36 points and 16 rebounds. On the season, he is now averaging 17.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. On a team that still has Kyle Wiltjer as a forward, Sabonis is playing like the best player on the team.
In the five games before Karnowski's absence, Sabonis was averaging 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in 23.8 minutes per game. Since Karnowski went down, those numbers have gone up 19.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game in 32 minutes per game.
Most of all, what the Zags saw last night is something they've been needing to see for awhile--someone step up in the second half. One of the consistent gripes we've seen on this team is that often times in the second half, it seems like no one is comfortable shouldering the load and leading the team.
Wiltjer, for all of his amazing games, has a tendency to go a bit quiet in the second half. The guards, for the most part, haven't been consistent enough to be relied upon. Sabonis, for his part, can only do so much. Tennessee made a switch in the second half, and their zone defense suffocated the entry pass for Sabonis.
Tennessee started to creep back in, and the Zags figured it out just as time. As usual, the exclamation mark on the game came from Sabonis. The Monmouth bench this year has apparently patented how to celebrate. Sabonis has patented how to scream like a maniac after a big play.
There has been talk of the Zags needing a leader and someone to step up. Often times, that comes from the seniors. Right now, that leadership is coming from Sabonis, not in the form of words but purely in the form of play on the court. No Gonzaga player is putting forth as much energy and emotion into each game as Domas is right now, and when he erupts, the team erupts.
Not many teams lose their starting senior center and shrug it off like its no big deal. The Zags haven't quite done that yet, but Domas makes it just a tad bit easier to deal with a Karnowski-less Gonzaga team.