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Gonzaga vs. Washington game preview: The Huskies are back

Give ‘em hell.

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

Whether or not the history is worth going into, it is always exciting when the Washington Huskies and the Gonzaga Bulldogs play each other. Statewide bragging rights are on the line, and now that the Huskies are climbing back into basketball relevancy, it is a little extra juicy.

The Zags are coming off of their first true road game of the season, a come from behind win against the Creighton Bluejays. The Zags topped 100 points for the fourth time this season with Josh Perkins, Rui Hachimura, and Brandon Clarke all registering double-doubles.

The Huskies got things turned around after a narrow holiday loss to Minnesota. Washington defeated Eastern Washington and UC Santa Barbara to enter Spokane on a short two-game winning streak. Head coach Mike Hopkins has turned things around much quicker than most were expecting, and the hopefully yearly game going forward between Gonzaga and Washington will provide plenty of trash talking.

Meet the opponent

Washington Huskies, 6-2, KenPom #52

Through the beginning of the season, the Huskies offense is heavily dependent on sophomore Jaylen Nowell, averaging 18 points per game, and senior forward Noah Dickerson, averaging 17.3 points per game. When Dickerson is on the floor, the offense is going to flow through him. He uses 33.9 percent of his possible possessions, good for No. 19 highest usage in the nation.

Dickerson does it effectively, but perhaps what he is best at is drawing contact. He draws 9.4 fouls per 40 minutes, good for the fourth-highest mark in the nation. Considering the state of the Gonzaga frontcourt, it is imperative that Brandon Clarke stay on his two feet. Clarke has a tendency to jump, and Dickerson is rapidly going to force the contact.

Senior winger Matisse Thybulle is one of the better shot blockers in the nation and overall defenders in the nation, averaging 2.6 blocks and 2.5 steals per game. Thybulle, combined with sophomore forward Hameir Wright are a big reason the Huskies are one of the best shot blocking teams in the nation, No. 5 according to Ken Pomeroy.

What to watch out for

That stupid 2-3 zone.

There used to be only one group of fans who enjoyed watching Syracuse basketball—Syracuse fans. Now there have to be two. Coach Hopkins brought the famed zone back from his assistant coaching position, and after implementing it to a certain successful degree last season, the Huskies are borderline exclusively using it this season.

The zone will give Gonzaga’s offense a test it hasn’t seen yet, so expect to see some ugly basketball early on. Also expect to see Gonzaga put the pedal to the metal early on. Gonzaga pushes the ball in transition on nearly a quarter of its possession, No. 32 most frequently in the country according to Synergy Sports. Washington’s zone won’t have any time to set up as long as the Zags are running.

Attack the offensive boards.

Part of the issue with operating in the 2-3 zone is that the Huskies are limiting their opportunities at defensive rebounding. The Huskies’ defense holds opponents to an offensive rebounding percentage of 34.3, the 310th mark in the nation. When Gonzaga’s half court offense misses a shot, the Zags need to take advantage on the offensive glass. Washington should not be able to keep up with players like Clarke, or Filip Petrusev.

What happens when Josh Perkins needs rest?

We saw that situation briefly in the Creighton game when Perkins picked up early fouls. Mark Few went to the freshman Greg Foster Jr., who really looked a bit lost with the speed of the game. His play didn’t do anything for anyone’s confidence. If this game builds up a healthy lead, it would be nice to see Few give some minutes to Foster and/or Joel Ayayi for an attempt at a confidence builder. Or perhaps see Norvell take over at the point with some success. With Tennessee and North Carolina coming up, the gameplan for opponents is clear: Attack Perkins and force him to the bench, because the mighty Gonzaga offensive machine sputters the moment he sits.