Wow, wow, wow. What a game. What a gutsy performance. The Zags might not have anything left for the final against Michigan thanks to their depleted depth, but we learned what we need to know about this team on Thursday. Mark Few was pretty much playing with 5.5 players from the second half and on, and there were plenty of opportunities late in the game for Gonzaga to throw in the towel. Instead, we saw the belief and character that is key to making this program elite year after year.
Here’s what else I took away:
- Killian Tillie’s presence on the floor opens up so much for the Zags. His skillset makes him the ideal zone buster, which worked out well since Oregon implemented a lot of the zone early in the game—to its detriment. Tillie can pass over the top of the zone, score from anywhere on the floor which allows for easy overloads, and can still crash the glass.
- Oregon’s defense moved well together and the Ducks do a good job of maximizing their length and athleticism to cover quite a bit of space and shut down driving lanes. Whether it was fatigue or a little too much respect for their opponents, the Zags dialed back their aggressiveness in attacking the basket in the second half which contributed to their offensive woes late in the game. Ironically, the Zags got too sped up late in the first half while trying to blow the game open.
- Corey Kispert looks supremely confident at the moment. He’s thinking about scoring immediately upon catching the ball, and has the look of someone who expects everything to drop. The Ducks made a concerted effort to deny Kispert the ball after his early outburst, and it worked, as he went without a field goal for over 32 minutes of game time until he made a pair of (enormous) 3’s in the final 96 seconds of regulation.
- The first 10 minutes of the game was as good as Gonzaga’s offense has looked all season. The inside-out attack was firing on all cylinders, and the GU bigs bullied Oregon’s frontcourt who didn’t to have the skill level to play at the same level as their counterparts. Gonzaga’s early prolific shooting set up its pick-n-roll to shred Oregon’s defense. The Duck defenders were constantly in conflict about tagging the roller or hedging over to contest the shooter, which frequently left them in no-man’s land. Unfortunately, that stopped being the case once the Zags got cold. The second half was as bad as Gonzaga’s offense has looked all season (and probably as bad as it has looked since the WCC championship game last year). There was very little off-ball movement, indecisiveness about passes, and just general sloppy execution. I’m chalking it up to tired bodies and tired minds.
- When the inevitable cold spell came on the shooting front, Oregon’s shooting was fortunately just as poor and the Ducks were never able to run away with the game. The Zags did a good job of winning the rebound battle for the first 30 minutes of the game, which helped them maintain control of the game, but then got completely dominated on that front in the last 15 (including OT). More on that in the next point.
- The Ducks wore down Gonzaga on the offensive glass to close out the game. I believe a lot of that was due to the fact that the Zags weren’t able to stop penetration anymore. Thanks to the team’s heavy legs and the sketchy health of Gilder (who only played 20 minutes) and Woolridge (gutted out 41 minutes but doesn’t look 100%), Gonzaga’s defense started to break down regularly over the latter stages of the game. With Oregon’s guards getting into the middle of the GU defense, the bigs, and Tillie in particular, were frequently having to step up to protect the rim and Oregon’s bigs capitalized by sliding into their vacated spots and gobbling up offensive rebounds.
- Gonzaga would have been toast in this tournament without Joel Ayayi. His step through off-hand finish late in overtime to tie the game and give the Zags a much needed basket was incredibly difficult and he made it look routine. He is so good.
- The Zags were not able to force many turnovers from Oregon, which limited their transition opportunities and prevented them from picking up any easy baskets. This had a compounding effect on the efficiency of the halfcourt offense as their struggles began to mount.
- The late game execution from Gonzaga left a lot to be desired. The execution in the second half as a whole was poor, which has already been discussed above, but the possession beginning with about 54 seconds left in regulation and ended with a shot clock violation was as bad as it gets. The Zags were up by two, and opted to burn clock for the first 20 seconds of the possession, which never works out well and gave Oregon the option of holding on to the ball until the end of regulation. Predictably, the ball didn’t make its way inside cleanly, got bumbled about into the hands of Woolridge in the corner, and he failed to recognize how much time was left on the shot clock. The senior point guard needs to be fully aware of the situation in that moment, and the next time the Zags are in that situation they would do well to just run a clean set much earlier in the clock and hold on to the 2-for-1 option.
- Filip Petrusev came up big at the free throw line, as did Drew Timme who was clutch hitting his second free throw attempt at the end of OT to deliver the win for Gonzaga. While Petrusev’s 22 and 15 stat line indicates what a monster performance he had, I think there’s still a lot more that can be extracted from him. He can play a lot more aggressively in the post, and there is still room for growth in handling the double team. That should excite GU fans.