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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Texas

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It was pretty until it wasn’t, but alls well that ends well.

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

Gonzaga heads home from the PK80 with a 2-1 record and the respect of the nation. And after the Texas game, I think it’s safe to say that Mark Few will have a couple of action items to work on in practice for the next few days. Here’s what else I took away:

  1. I was curious to see how the Zags would respond going into the final game of PK80 considering the physical and emotional toll expended against Florida on Friday night. The way they came out in the first half and dominated, and then how they collected themselves at the end of regulation and locked down during overtime speaks volumes as to the mental toughness and character of the team. I have zero concerns about how this group will handle any type of adversity moving forward.
  2. Josh Perkins was so good at running the pick-n-roll for the first 28-30 minutes of the game (before our entire team had a collective brain fart). Texas didn’t start switching on the ball screens until the second half and were clearly concerned about his 3-point shooting as two defenders picked him up on ball screens throughout much of the first half. Perkins played with great patience to carry the roll-man’s defender 2-3 steps away from his man and then hit the roller who usually had a clear path to a layup.
  3. Rui Hachimura got himself going early on by making simple dive cuts that gave him great looks at the rim. It’s an easy read for him to make and takes advantage of his physical talents as he gets to generate a head of steam towards the rim. Overall, he did a nice job being aggressive on offense while still taking his shots within the flow of the offense and it was easily the best game of his Gonzaga career. That he had so much success against a team with legitimate rim protectors bodes well for the future.
  4. Incredible drive from Corey Kispert midway through the first half in transition as he was fearless in going right at one of the most ballyhooed members of his recruiting class in Mo Bamba. Kispert did well to initiate contact into Bamba’s chest which created much-needed space for him against Bamba’s 7’9” wingspan, but then to have the strength to finish through contact was even more impressive. Kispert’s not only mentally ready for a big role, but he’s so physically advanced for a freshman. Great strength and athleticism highlighted in that play. He earned the right to flex on ‘em afterwards.
  5. In the 2-3 zone defense, I’d like to see Zach Norvell slide quicker back and forth in his area of responsibility. There was a play in the first where he was slow to slide across to the wing which gave Matt Coleman an opportunity for dribble-penetration. On a different play, however, Norvell did exhibit good awareness to cover Dylan Ostekowski on the perimeter while still in range of his man to buy time for Rui to recover after slipping. That was smart, heads up basketball.
  6. Back to Rui for another point, he had the ball in transition and totally missed Kispert who had fanned out to the wing and was wide open. Improving his court vision is going to be part of his development as he works to become a complete player. Additionally, on Bamba’s buzzer beater at the end of the first half, Rui should have stayed home on Bamba instead of sliding over to help on the driver. He wasn’t going to get himself into a position to alter or contest the shot and all it did was free up Bamba to clean up the miss.
  7. Texas’ press was wildly ineffective for the first 28 minutes, which makes it that much more annoying that the Zags struggled so mightily against it to close out regulation. Gonzaga consistently broke the first trap and was decisive in making the diagonal pass across the floor to create an easy 1-on-1 opportunity for a layup or foul. I don’t know why they stopped doing that in the latter stages of the game. The Zags were hugging the sidelines more often against the press in the second half and were slow to diagnose where the pressure would be. Get the ball to the middle of the floor and relax.
  8. In Gonzaga’s half-court offense during the second half, the Longhorns started to switch on everything to combat the ball screens. I would have liked to see the Zags use those switches to get Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie easier matchups around the rim.
  9. Considering how experienced Perkins and Melson are, I was surprised to see how frequently they picked up their dribbles and allowed themselves to get trapped. You can’t do the defense’s job for them, hold your dribble (within reason) and give yourself an out.
  10. It really goes without saying but that full court inbound pass attempt from Perkins at the end of regulation was beyond ill-advised. In that situation, you can’t try that pass under any circumstances, ever. BUT, don’t let that play take away from how good he was all tournament long. He shot 14-23 from the arc and came up with so many big shots. As mentioned above, he did a really nice job running the offense and putting guys in position to succeed. While he still has areas to improve (finishing at the rim continues to be subpar), he’s definitely taking the next step in his development.
  11. Bonus because I can’t ignore the 24 turnovers (28.9% of possessions!) because that is a truly disgusting number. This team is going to turn over the ball because of the pace and style it plays on offense, and I recognize that Texas’ defense is built to generate pressure and skilled at taking the ball away. But a lot of the turnovers today were truly head scratchers that can’t be explained. Expect this to be a major point of emphasis with Creighton and Villanova on the horizon.