Gonzaga fell to a hungry Tennessee squad that made just enough plays down the stretch to eke out a hard-fought victory. The Zags had plenty of chances to put this game away, but there were far too many defensive lapses in the closing minutes that allowed the Vols to stick around and eventually pull ahead. Hopefully, this loss serves as a catalyst for the rest of the season. Here’s what I took away from the afternoon matinee in the desert:
- Tennessee set a physical tone early, showing a willingness to go right at Gonzaga on both ends of the floor. The Zags didn’t handle it very well for the first few minutes. Though the Zags sank a couple of threes to stay within reach early, they failed to consistently execute any clean offensive sets and were bullied on the boards.
- Few dipped into the bench pretty early, with Filip Petrusev entering the game for Brandon Clarke (despite not picking up a foul yet) before the first media timeout, and Greg Foster Jr. and Jeremy Jones coming on pretty shortly thereafter. Against Tennessee’s physicality, Few knew he had to find some minutes to give his starters a breather, but I’m guessing the early subs were also a byproduct of Few not being thrilled with the starters focus to open the game.
- Gonzaga’s effort and activity level on defense picked up midway through the first half. The defense was quick to collapse once the ball went inside, and each of our defenders were much more attentive to lazy passes on the perimeter. We haven’t seen that level of intensity for much of this year (second half against Arizona the only other stretch that comes to mind), and if the Zags want to accomplish their goals this season they need to be able to produce that level of play more consistently (now that we know this team can play that level of defense).
- The Zags can reach another level of offensive greatness if Corey Kispert’s a consistent threat from outside. Opposing defenses have to make a choice with how they want to shade their coverage on Rui while also being attentive to Snacks and Clarke. Accordingly, Kispert is almost always going to have some room and he’s smart enough with his off-ball movement to take advantage of it if he plays assertively. Kispert had one of his best games of the season, but I thought he left some opportunities on the table. After going 3-4 from the arc in the first half, he didn’t attempt another three in the second half.
- Brandon Clarke just completely dominated the opening minutes of the second half. His athleticism is simply on another level, and allows him to be a one-man wrecking crew on both ends of the floor. His block on Yves Pons will be re-told for generations to come.
- Josh Perkins didn’t have his shot going today, but his ball distribution was really, really good. I’ll take a 9:1 assist-to-turnover ratio every single time, and he had some pretty passes mixed in there. In the first half, he passed John Stockton to take sole possession of 4th place on Gonzaga’s all-time assists record holders.
- Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield were as advertised, but they didn’t get much help from anyone else on their team. Even so, Schofield was unconscious down the stretch and Gonzaga didn’t have an answer for how to stop him. He inexplicably got free on multiple occasions down the stretch, none more glaring than that second-to-last possession at the end of the game, and for how hot he got I thought Gonzaga did a poor job of trying to make life difficult for him.
- Schofield and Norvell were seen exchanging some friendly words during the second half while also exchanging a flurry of baskets. Schofield played his high school ball in the suburbs of Illinois, and they saw plenty of each other during their high school days on the AAU Circuit. Their little rivalry created a lot of fun moments, and you could see how much mutual respect they have for each other based on their post-game hug.
- Bad decision by Rick Barnes not to go 2-for-1 at the end of the game after Rui tied it up at the free throw line. The Vols got the ball with 46 second left and dribbled away 16 seconds without running a set, then called a timeout. They made their shot out of the timeout and won the game, but strategically it wasn’t a sound decision in my opinion. Then again, I’m just a blogger...
- Rui blew his assignment on Schofield on what turned out to be the game-winning three. Rui got caught up flowing with the ball on the ball screen instead of staying home on Schofield who popped out to the NBA 3-point line where he made the go-ahead bucket. Frankly, it was stunning to see Schofield that open when everyone in the building knew Tennessee was going to get him the ball. It was a bad brain fart from Rui, who has to be aware of the situation in that circumstance.
Whatever, we’ll always have this Brandon Clarke block. Goodness!