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10 observations from Gonzaga’s authoritative win over Saint Mary’s

A win that gets much sweeter the more you think about it.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at St. Mary's D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

That was the most beautiful 40 minutes of basketball I’ve ever seen. Here are too many words about it all.

  1. The defensive rotations in this game were phenomenal. Every time Jock Landale even sniffed the ball, the Zags aggressively double-teamed him. Each time Landale tried to kick it out, there was a man in the face on the perimeter. If the Gaels swung the ball around the perimeter, the Zags chased the open man. The Zags’ first rotation was amazing, but it was the second, third, and sometimes fourth rotations that were jaw dropping. This game rests entirely on the shoulders of that phenomenal defensive effort. That defensive effort was the best we’ve seen from the Zags all season. It was the sort of effort that last year’s squad showed every game. If the Zags can play defense like that for the rest of the season, they are a dangerous out in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Jeff Eisenberg had a really good point after the game, which highlighted where the Gaels went wrong. Landale was right to pass in most of the situations where he got caught on the baseline, but he was also too quick to pass in a lot of those double teams as well. Really makes you appreciate the value Przemek Karnowski brought to the squad for four years. Karnowski’s ability to fight through double teams is what made him so dangerous. Landale was too passive against the Gonzaga defense.
  3. The most impressive part of the defense is that Jock Landale didn’t have a field goal attempt until 8:34 left in the first half, and that was on a cherry picking play down the floor (please note: if that were a Gonzaga player I would be acknowledging how well our big man run the floor. Double standards do exist in life and I’m happy to apply them there). Landale finished with six total field goal attempts. The Zags didn’t even let him breathe when he came up for air.
  4. The guard play in this game was phenomenal. As well as exerting a massive effort on the defensive end, the Gonzaga guards of Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, and Zach Norvell continually jammed the ball down Saint Mary’s throats, breaking down the defense and finding looks in the paint or at the rim. The Zags overall didn’t shoot the best from three point land. They started 3-of-3 from long range, but finished 4-of-18 the rest of the way. The lack of three pointers was hardly noticeable with the way the guards played.
  5. Saint Mary’s has zero answer for Rui Hachimura. His speed, his length, his athleticism, they just can’t even figure out how to deal with him. Rui finished with 21 points, slightly down from his 23 points in the first matchup. In two consecutive possessions in the second half, Rui started off away from the basket and finished with a driving left-handed lay-up at the hoop. Each time he made it look too easy.
  6. Corey Kispert only played 12 minutes in the game, his lowest amount since playing nine minutes against Saint Mary’s the other time this season. The issue comes down to defense, in that Kispert just isn’t really good at it right now. At the moment, if Kispert isn’t shooting lights out or garnering hustle offensive rebounds, his value is incredibly limited. Out of all the major Gonzaga players, Kispert has the worst defensive rating on the squad. With Rui breaking out, and playing solid defense more often than not, the rotation seems to be constricting a bit for Kispert. He really needs to demonstrate to Mark Few and company that he belongs on the floor during big games, or else the result will be much like his WCC games against Saint Mary’s—largely from the bench.
  7. That was a phenomenal game by Johnathan Williams, notching another double double and just making life hell for the Gaels in the post. In the first matchup, Williams struggled keeping Landale out of good positioning, so when the weak-side help came, it largely didn’t matter. To look at the success of this game, you also have to look at how hard Williams defended Landale before the entry passes came in. Landale rarely received the ball in an ideal spot, often times being shoved towards the baseline for a trap or far enough away from the hoop to minimize any potential offensive showing. It was a stellar effort in reducing Landale to a quivering pile of nothing for the game.
  8. Huge credit to both the coaching staff and the players for drinking the Kool Aid this game. Every single player was on board with the game plan, and they executed it flawlessly. Gonzaga never looked like there was a lapse in energy for 40 minutes. If there was a player on the floor, they were in a Gonzaga uniform. This was a vintage Gonzaga effort, scrappy, annoying as all get out, and making the shots along the way. I’m not saying Saint Mary’s didn’t want this win more, but Gonzaga earned the win yesterday.
  9. Is next year the year Randy Bennett finally figures out that perhaps some non-conference quality wins are good? Saint Mary’s will make the NCAA Tournament, but they are going to have a hard time making a case for anything resembling a high seed. The Gaels now own wins over New Mexico State out of conference—that is it. In conference it is two BYU wins and a win over Gonzaga for now. None of us need to tell Bennett that the WCC isn’t a good enough league to put all your eggs in that basket. It probably won’t happen, but if Saint Mary’s drops one of their final conference games unexpectedly, it could be disastrous for their at-large bid chance depending on how the bubbles pop.
  10. If Gonzaga plays like that for the rest of the season, they are an Elite 8 team at minimum. The problem is that Gonzaga hasn’t played like that for 40 minutes all season. Hopefully, this win is a momentum builder and Gonzaga reestablishes the punishing mentality they exerted on WCC teams at the beginning of conference play.