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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win at its other home court

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8-2

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Huskies got a new coaching staff and a new playing philosophy (namely actually trying to play defense), but the results were the same, as Gonzaga easily secured a 27-point win for the second year in a row. Here’s what I took away from Gonzaga’s win in Spokane West:

  1. Gonzaga attacked Washington’s zone with patient but decisive passing. The Zags, as a group, were much were comfortable and confident on the ball in the face of pressure, and were effective at moving UW’s zone to create creases for passing lanes or dribble-drives. 20 assists to 8 turnovers is a much more palatable ratio.
  2. UW opened the game with 34 court pressure to see if it could speed up the Zags into early mistakes. It wasn’t a bad strategy considering how poorly Gonzaga has dealt with pressure and traps in the last few games. Fortunately, the results were different in this game.
  3. Zach Norvell has not been a great on-ball defender throughout the start of this season, but he was making a concerted effort to be a lot more active on the glass and on the defensive end. He only logged 3 rebounds and 1 steal in the box score, but he was a much more disruptive presence and was consistently getting his hand on the ball for deflections or tips. Outside of his 3-point shooting (2-11...woof), Norvell had a complete night and is rounding into form after a slow start to the season.
  4. In the first half, UW played a very extended zone in an effort to take away the 3-point line and make entry passes more difficult. While this approach took away the corners, Gonzaga had a lot of room inside the paint and in the short corners once it got the ball inside. The Huskies adjusted in the second half by playing more compact, and the Zags took advantage of the room at the wings to rain a few 3’s.
  5. Gonzaga dominated on the boards (42-27), and in doing so, highlighted one of the major disadvantages of the zone defense. Time and time again, UW failed to effectively box out, which is harder to do in the zone as opposed to man-to-man defense since defenders aren’t assigned to specific opponents. Additionally, the zone allowed Gonzaga’s guards to crash the boards without getting picked up because UW’s backs were turned to them. Gonzaga shot over 50% from the field and still picked up 13 offensive rebounds.
  6. It felt like the Zags were living at the free throw line as the Huskies took their newfound aggressive defensive philosophy a little too far. There were a lot of sloppy fouls committed in the name of contesting shots, and I suspect that will be a major point of emphasis for them moving forward.
  7. Corey Kispert made his return from an ankle sprain after missing the last two games, but it was evident that he’s not yet fully recovered. He looked tentative leaving his feet on a wide open layup attempt late in the game and he didn’t look like he had his lift back yet.
  8. Mike Hopkins surprisingly opted to start the game with his leading scorer (Jaylen Nowell) on the bench. Nowell was the lone member of Washington’s 2017 recruiting class to keep his commitment after Lorenzo Romar was fired, and was averaging 17.8ppg heading into the game against the Zags. There was no explanation for why Nowell didn’t start, but the Zags held him to a quiet and ineffective night before he fouled out with just 11 points.
  9. The Pac-12 Network announcers working this game somehow reached new lows of awful announcing. It was evident pretty early on that they had done little-to-no research on Gonzaga or the strengths (many) and weaknesses (few) of its personnel. Don MacLean’s opus on the inflated qualities of the Pac-12 were the cherry on top of the crap cake viewers were served. The praise directed to UW for filling out its arena because of the surprise victory over Kansas earlier in the week was certainly misplaced considering the “We Are GU” chants one could hear in the background.
  10. After an ugly loss to Villanova, this performance was exactly what we wanted to see from Gonzaga to cleanse the palate.