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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win against Creighton

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga burnished its resume by picking up an excellent win on the road against a tough Creighton team. The Blue Jays have one of the best offenses in the country, but a depleted Gonzaga offense was still the better unit. The Zags are now averaging 98.4 ppg on the season, which is absurd. Here’s what else I took away from Saturday’s matinee:

  1. Gonzaga opened with the same offensive set against Creighton as it did against Duke (not counting Kispert’s missed transition layup in the first offensive possession against Duke), resulting in a Rui three-pointer in both games. Setting up Rui and/or Clarke for a 3 so early forced Creighton to think about opening up its defense from the outset. While it wasn’t as advantageous as it was against Duke and Marques Bolden who was really exposed away from the basket. Creighton’s bigs were a little more mobile and comfortable getting out on the perimeter. Still, the Zags were able to create more room to work inside.
  2. A deep contested three is an outcome Gonzaga wants to force every time on the defensive end. But Creighton entered the game shooting 47% from the arc on the season, and had no qualms firing away over the top of Gonzaga’s defense. While Creighton did hit some tough shots, the Zags allowed too many easy catch and shoot opportunities in the first half where the Jays were able to shoot in rhythm.
  3. Josh Perkins had to take a seat with early foul trouble and the Gonzaga offense once again broke down, scoring 4 points in the 3:40 that he was off the floor in the middle of the first half. The Zags reeled off a 6-0 run immediately upon Perkins re-entering the game. Foster was brought in to spell Perkins but he’s just not ready to run the offense, nor does he provide a shooting threat which allowed Creighton’s defense to double elsewhere. Mark Few simply can’t afford to have Perkins off the floor right now. His 13:1 assist to turnover ratio (13 assists in a single game is the second-best mark in program history) highlights just how high of a level he’s playing at right now.
  4. Clarke and Rui dominated Creighton inside, combining for 25 points (11-14 FG combined) in the first half despite Rui only playing for 10 minutes due to foul trouble. The Zags were going to get whatever they wanted against Creighton inside, the key was simply keeping Rui and Clarke on the floor.
  5. Creighton made nine 3’s in the first half from seven different players, and the Zags seemed quite flustered on the defensive end as their rotations and closeouts were consistently late.
  6. Every time Norvell gets in one of his cold droughts, he breaks his slump by getting to the rim. He had 5 points in the first half on 2-8 shooting. Few drew up a great set to get him a layup (and-1) in the opening possession of the second half and he was off to the races, hitting a pair of 3’s in the next few possessions to cut Creighton’s lead to a single possession en route to shooting 6/7 for 18 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. His heat checks in the latter stages of the second half were pretty wild, but I can live with those considering he single-handedly shot Gonzaga back into the game inside of the second half’s first minute.
  7. The next area of growth for Rui is consistency with his defensive sets. He got beat off the dribble by Samson Froling in a one-on-one situation. No offense to Mr. Froling, but he should never beat Rui off the dribble from the 3-point line for a layup and a free throw. Rui’s technique was really poor on that possession, playing really upright which allowed Froling to turn the corner and get himself between Rui and the rim.
  8. On a defensive possession in the second half, Clarke got back-to-back blocks and then essentially picked up a third without even jumping, forcing a poor floater from a Creighton player just by stepping up in the lane. He’s the first bullet point on every opponent’s scouting report of Gonzaga’s defense, and he owns a lot of real estate in the head of opposing players who enter the paint.
  9. Mark Few only felt comfortable subbing Jeremy Jones in twice to give Norvell and Clarke one-minute breathers, respectively, in the second half. Other than that the starters had to stay out there for the entire half while erasing a 7-point deficit and then holding on for a tough road win. This is how it’s going to be for the next 2 weeks, so the Zags better find their rest in between games.
  10. There were 3 double-doubles in this game from Perkins (13 points, 13 assists), Clarke (27 points, 10 rebounds), and Rui (22 points, 10 rebounds). There have been a handful of games in the last 10 years with two Zags notching double-doubles on the same night, but this was the first time in that span (and probably ever, but the database doesn’t go back that far) where three Zags pulled off the feat in the same game.