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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to Florida


NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Ohio State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Where do I even begin after a game like that? I posted on Twitter last night that I couldn’t even be mad or sad about the outcome of the game and I still feel that way after sleeping on it. Both the Gators and Zags gave us such an incredible level of effort and play that it was simply a pleasure to watch them duel for 50 minutes. Hats off to all the Gonzaga fans at the Moda Center for making the event a de facto home game. The fan support definitely made a positive impression on the national media.

  1. Johnathan Williams picked a great time to have a career best night, nearly going the distance in logging 44 minutes while shooting 16-22 from the field (ridiculous) to score 39 points including an impressive 6-8 from the free throw line (I’ll take that percentage from him every time). Williams added 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a made three-pointer along with solid interior defense. He did well to capitalize on Florida’s dearth of big men while making Kevarrius Hayes look like a very ordinary defender. Duke’s Marvin Bagley and Mo Bamba of Texas (who we will see on Sunday) were the marquee big men going into the tournament, but it is Williams who has had the best performance of any player in a stacked PK80 field.
  2. Florida fielded a four-guard lineup out of necessity as it awaits the returns of injured forwards John Egbunu and Isaiah Stokes, but that lineup really works well with Mike White’s philosophy. The Gators love to spread out opposing defenses and use the speed of Chris Chiozza and Kevaughn Allen to penetrate and create for all the spot-up shooters at their disposal.
  3. For several minutes in each half, Mark Few went with a lineup that saw both Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams on the bench. In their absence we saw Melson, Larsen, Rui, Norvell, and Kispert on the floor. Needless to say, Gonzaga struggled to find any cohesiveness during both stretches due to the inexperience on the court. Silas has been decent as the backup primary ballhandler but it may be best not to have Perkins and Williams out at the same time. We can still run our offense through Williams when Perkins needs a blow, and while Larsen has shown he’s a good passer, defenses don’t yet have to sag on him and can play tighter on Norvell, Kispert, and Melson on the wings.
  4. The Gators do an excellent job on the defensive end of shrinking passing lanes by playing with very active hands. Gonzaga’s guards had a really difficult time making entry passes into the paint with the Gators contesting passes at all angles. Moreover, Florida also adapted to Gonzaga’s roll-and-oop after Perkins and Williams connected early in the contest, breaking up two more subsequent attempts (one to Williams and one to Tillie) by recognizing the action.
  5. Considering the way Florida shot the ball against Stanford, it wasn’t surprising to see Gonzaga wait longer to go into its 2-3 zone defense despite having success with it over the last two games. The zone was useful in containing Florida’s penetration and the Zags were able to stay in it for an extended period while the Gators struggled from the arc. However, the Zags had to abandon the zone once Hudson and Chiozza started to heat up as Hudson in particular was given too much space on the wings.
  6. Speaking of Jalen Hudson, the transfer obviously had his way against the Zags, lighting up the defense on 8-12 shooting from the arc in the second half and overtimes after failing to attempt a single three in the first half. Hudson has an very quick release so only needs a sliver of space to get his shot off, but Gonzaga did a really poor job of tracking him in transition and crowding him to disrupt his rhythm. Once he got en fuego, I would have liked to see the Zags overplay him more to deny him the ball. Instead, he consistently got free to bury dagger after dagger.
  7. The Gators employed a steady diet of dribble-handoffs at the top of the arc with Chiozza/Allen/Hudson to great effect. We frequently saw one of them start at the wing and dribble to the top of the arc where they could opt to hand-off to one of the other two players for a shot/drive or keep the ball and drive if the defenders fail to seal the edge and allow the ballhandler to turn the corner. It’s a simple concept but works really well because it forces the defenders out of position to either contest a jumpshot or contain a driver.
  8. Gonzaga’s transition defense was a mess in the second half and overtimes. On the break, Florida consistently fanned out to the corners to generate better three-point looks rather than send runners to the rim and the Zags never adjusted. There’s no explaining how in OT, of all times, Gonzaga fell asleep on consecutive possessions and failed to get back on defense in a timely fashion. Players literally had their backs turned to the ball and were walking to the defensive end as Chiozza pushed the ball past them. TWICE! On the second possession the Zags gave up a brutal corner-3 to Hudson who had been killing them since halftime. In a game where the margins were razor thin those are the mistakes that simply can’t happen.
  9. The final play of regulation was set up to give Melson dual options on either wing in Kispert and Perkins who were coming off screens, but Florida stayed tight and Melson had nowhere to go with the ball. Melson also did not receive the ball in a triple-threat position to give him the option to drive to the basket, and was stuck once the primary options were taken away. It was a really ugly possession after incredibly high-level basketball over the last eight minutes of regulation. In a similar situation, I would have preferred to see Tillie play Melson’s role on that set. He’s still a good passer and can shoot over his defender if/when the play breaks down.
  10. I didn’t agree with having everyone out during Melson’s free throw attempt at the end of the first overtime. I’m guessing the coaches wanted to avoid a situation where a loose-ball foul on a miss would have given the Gators free throw attempts in a tie game, but I think it would have been better to have guys in the blocks to have a rebound attempt for a put-back and a chance to win the game. Plus, you don’t want to give Florida a chance to gather and attempt an unobstructed full court shot (although that obviously totally worked out in this case since Koulechov walked).