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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Arkansas Pine Bluff

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NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga’s 50-point win over Arkansas Pine Bluff was its largest margin of victory since defeating the Denver Pioneers by 61 points on December 21 of last year. Here’s how the Zags did it:

  1. Joel Ayayi has been phenomenal off the bench. He set a new career high with 13 rebounds (!!) after racking up 7 of them in the first game of the season and leads the team in total rebounds through the first two games—as a reserve point guard. Let that soak in for a minute. He also had a career high 8 points. He easily finds the tempo of the game off the bench and made an instant impact when he came in to this contest, knocking down a three and setting up his teammates for good looks. His ability to crash the boards and regularly grab rebounds is instrumental in allowing Gonzaga to get breakouts and transition opportunities.
  2. Filip Petrusev looks much more assertive with initiating contact at the start of his move in the post to create space, but Richard Fox made a great point on the broadcast about Petrusev still needing to be a little more physical on the defensive end to push his man further away from the basket to prevent any deep entries into the post. Petrusev can get away with waiting to engage until his man gets the ball in these games, but he’ll need to be the aggressor when the competition heats up.
  3. Offensive spacing is still an issue, particularly in the paint which isn’t surprising considering two freshmen are getting significant minutes down there at the moment. These guys are all high IQ players and I anticipate that issue will resolve itself quickly as they grow more comfortable in playing off each other and seeing how their teammates read defenses.
  4. Gonzaga’s offense has been consistently efficient for years now, but the scoring output could really reach a different level if the defense is able to maintain its current level of forcing turnovers thanks to all the transition opportunities they create. The Zags are demonstrating they’re able to string together multiple extended runs in very brief periods of time.
  5. The defense’s ability to be aggressive and force turnovers is great, but maintaining the overall integrity of the scheme and preventing sloppy breakdowns needs to be a point of emphasis. They are good enough to achieve both of those things.
  6. Early foul trouble for Admon Gilder allowed us to see some different lineup iterations as Mark Few played around with the rotation. Martynas Arlauskas enter the game during non-garbage time for the first time this season, and even stayed on when Ryan Woolridge sat down as Few employed a long lineup of Petrusev, Drew Timme, and Anton Watson at the 3 with Ayayi in the other guard position. That lineup didn’t look too bad either, exhibiting good patience against a zone defense to work the ball around until they set up Timme for a easy 8 foot jump hook. As discussed during the offseason, Few gave Kispert a few minutes at the 2-guard spot as well in another jumbo lineup, and I suspect we’ll see that a little more over the course of the season.
  7. Ayayi got pulled after traveling on an inbounds pass while trying to avoid a lurking defender (the play was not helped by Timme who needs to ensure Ayayi can receive that pass without being under duress since he’s in position to see what the defender is doing), and Few immediately gave him an extended chat when he got to the sideline—presumably about that play. Those are the moments where his development really occurs, and those in-game experiences in games like this are invaluable.
  8. I have been really pleasantly surprised with how well Woolridge has performed considering his abbreviated offseason prevented him from getting maximum reps with the team. He’s been a steadier player than Gilder so far, who I expected to be a little more impactful than Woolridge out of the gate, though I’m concerned about Gilder by any means.
  9. Anton Watson continues to flash all the traits of a special player, pairing his elite athleticism with a high level understanding and feel for the game. He’s a much better defender than a lot of freshmen are at this point in their college careers, and there’s really no telling what his ceiling could be.
  10. Kispert, Petrusev, and Ayayi have all established new career highs through the first two games of the season. Not a bad start to the year.