The SMU Mustangs got revenge and their "tournament win" by snapping the Gonzaga Bulldogs' six-game winning streak. In an intense contest that felt a lot like a tournament game, the Bulldogs couldn't overcome a superlative effort by Nic Moore and an equally pessimal game from Kyle Wiltjer.
SMU jumped out to a quick lead by doing everything they do well--moving the ball and hitting 3s. The Zags didn't take too long to get settled in either, as threes by Kyle Dranginis and Josh Perkins helped to cut the early deficit. Taking threes became the go-to option for the Zags, as they launched 19 in the first half, en route to 32 for the game. SMU was content to cede the 3-point line in order to lock down the interior.
Domantas Sabonis was impactful early, controlling the paint, dominating the boards and kicking out to shooters once the defense collapsed on him. Unfortunately, Kyle Wiltjer had probably his worst half of basketball as a Zag, finishing the opening 20 minutes 1-11 from the field with one rebound.
One of the keys to stopping SMU was keeping them off the boards, and to that end Gonzaga was pretty successful. Dranginis and Domas were especially dominant on the boards, as they combined for 10 rebounds through the first 10 minutes. However, SMU re-asserted control of the boards once Domas exited with foul trouble, and Ryan Edwards was shackled by his own foul situation.
Considering Wiltjer's struggles and Domas sitting out the last four minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, the Zags were lucky to go into the break only down by three.
The second half a lot like a classic boxing match with two fighters exchanging blows. Domas came out of the break breathing fire, and he finished the night with 20 points and 15 rebounds. It's an understatement to say the Zags would have been toast without him.
Gonzaga took the lead in the second behind Domas and a pair of threes from Josh Perkins, but every big play or run by the Zags was answered by SMU, and more specifically, Nic Moore. After the Zags opened up a five point lead, Moore took over and never looked back. SMU's senior point guard dominated the second half with a barrage of jumpers, floaters, and defense-slicing pocket passes on his way to 25 points and 11 assists with just a single turnover. Silas, Josh, and Dranginis all took turns guarding him but it just didn't matter.
Just a few days after Larry Brown called out his team for a lack of heart on the defensive end, the Mustangs produced one of their best defensive performances of the season. But the difference in this game was that Nic Moore played like a star, and Wiltj did not.
That game was a tough pill to swallow, but Gonzaga will need to regroup quickly with a rematch against that team from Moraga looming next weekend.
Some additional thoughts:
- Great transition defense by Eric McClellan to break up a fastbreak alley-oop midway through the first half.
- Re: Domas flagrant for the elbow, the rule was applied correctly, but that doesn't make it a good rule.
- The backcourt had a good game on offense, providing long-range shooting and good passing inside to help keep the game close. Unfortunately, no one could stop Nic Moore in the second half.
- Nic Moore showed why he won the AAC Player of the Year Award last season. He's a true floor general. That was probably the best performance I've seen by a point guard all season.
- Three of SMU's 4 three-pointers came in the first few minutes of the game. SMU won this game with the pick-and-roll in the second half.
- Zags were trapping hard in the post throughout much of the game. I got nervous every time the trapper left his man on the wing, but the Zags did a decent job of helping and recovering and didn't get burned by it too often.
- The Zags had some really, really poor possessions in the last 2-3 minutes when they needed quick buckets while chasing the lead. There has to be a better plan when chasing, than burn 25 seconds and dump it inside to Sabonis.
- Let's hope we never see Wiltj have another game like that again. The backcourt played as well as we could have hoped for, and an okay night from Wiltj probably means Gonzaga wins the game. Everyone has a bad game, but the Zags are not equipped to absorb that lack of production from him. I don't think I've ever seen him get gun-shy before, but he passed up a number of shots in the second half that he normally wouldn't think twice about taking in other games. There's no doubt he was bothered by SMU's rangy defenders, but he also just missed a lot of shots that we've seen him make consistently throughout his career. Gotta keep shooting, big fella!