For the first time this season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were at full strength after welcoming Killian Tillie back to the lineup. But for the first time this season, the Bulldogs failed to win by double digits as they eked out a narrow 72-66 victory over the Texas-Arlington Mavericks to move to 5-0 on the campaign.
After averaging a 35.5 margin of victory through the first four games of the season, the Zags had their hands full against a squad looking for an upset. Ryan Woolridge led all scorers with 19 points (7-15 FG) and 9 rebounds, while Tillie (6-11) and Admon Gilder (4-11) each scored 15 points. Filip Petrusev chipped in 10 points, while Drew Timme added 7 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. The Mavericks had three players score in double figures.
Despite the good feels that accompanied Tillie’s return to action, Gonzaga produced its worst half of basketball in this young season to open Tuesday night’s game. The offense looked nothing like the unit ranked third in KenPom’s efficiency ratings, though it did resemble a formidable bricklaying company.
Gonzaga shot a porous 3-15 from the arc, and the ball movement was deficient as only 4 of their 12 made field goals in the half were assisted. The defense failed to produce the numerous transition opportunities seen in the first four games of the season, and there were no extended scoring runs or sparks to be found anywhere.
Instead of dictating proceedings at both ends of the floor, the Zags were reactionary and allowed UT-Arlington to easily disrupt their execution. If not for back-to-back baskets from Woolridge (and some stare downs directed at the Mavericks bench) in the final minute of the first half, the Zags would have entered halftime trailing. Instead, they got to enjoy a marginally less depressing 28-27 lead after 20 minutes.
The second half was better, though truth be told it couldn’t get worse, and I’m using the term “better” very relatively. Gonzaga extended its lead to 13 points a handful of times behind the efforts of Tillie and Woolridge, and the squad as a whole responded positively with their backs against the wall.
The Mavericks, however, would not go quietly into the good night. Their defense continued to flummox the Zags, while they consistently managed to convert tough baskets at the other end to keep their hosts within arm’s length on the scoreboard. Every time the game appeared to be nearly in hand, Gonzaga failed to land the knockout punch and would be back to exchanging jabs with its visitors.
Ultimately, the clock simply ran out of time with Gonzaga in the lead. It goes down as a “W’ for the resume, but I doubt it felt like that in the locker room afterwards. Whether this performance is an aberration or a harbinger of things to come remains to be seen, but the Zags will show us soon enough.