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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over San Diego

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Loyola Marymount Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

A funny thing happens when a team beats its conference opponents by an average of 31 points—anything less than that feels like a letdown. It’s a testament to the standard Mark Few and the program have set this season, and the elevated expectations of the fan base. Gonzaga didn’t have its A-game, but a lot of that credit should go to the Toreros who executed their game plan very well. Here’s what I took away from the game:

  1. Gonzaga has not been shy about 1 through 5 switching all season, and USD looked to exploit that through the early stages of the game. The Toreros constantly cycled through dribble handoffs on the perimeter to get the matchup they wanted—Perkins on Pineiro being the preferred option—and Gonzaga’s rotations uncharacteristically got out of whack on switchbacks during the course of play leading to a lot of wide open threes.
  2. Isaiah Pineiro roasted Rui during the game in Spokane (and vice versa), so it was nice to see Clarke and Rui alternating on him to vary the defensive coverages he was seeing. Pineiro got his points in the second half, but he had a tough time getting going.
  3. It was not a banner night for the bench. Jeremy Jones ended up playing a lot of Kispert’s minutes in the second half as Mark Few made an adjustment to better deal with the mismatches San Diego was looking to create, which worked, but Jones didn’t make the all-around impact we’ve seen from him for most of the season. Geno Crandall also seemed out of rhythm, while Filip Petrusev’s defense was quite poor and not made up for from the offensive end.
  4. Both coaches had key players (Piniero and Josh Perkins) pick up two fouls with plenty of time left on the clock in the first half, and both coaches opted to keep each guy in the game. I’m always for coaches keeping veteran players on the floor in that scenario. Piniero ended up picking up a 3rd foul and having to take a seat, but I’m glad Few didn’t let that guide his decision making when Perkins was in the same situation just a few moments later. You have to trust your veteran guys to play smart in that scenario, and it’s fa
  5. Gonzaga forced USD into seven turnovers during the first half, but that didn’t result into a lot of transition buckets the other way. USD’s transition defense did an excellent job of bottling up Gonzaga’s break and forcing a lot of extended halfcourt possessions.
  6. USD’s game plan was to pack the paint and take away Rui and Clarke’s space. This left room on the perimeter, but the Zags did a poor job of making them pay with errant long-distance shooting in the first half.
  7. Perkins’ mid-range game off the pick-n-roll was in A+ form. Defenses are always in conflict with him when he turns the corner off the screen because the big can’t step up since Rui or Clarke are rolling off the backside looking for an alley-oop. Perkins will almost always have a simple read there—hoist the 8-footer or pick up an easy assist depending on whether the big steps up or not. San Diego’s plan was to take away easy looks at the rim for Rui and Clarke, and Perkins was decisive in taking his shots rather than resetting.
  8. It’s not unusual to have an emotional letdown after a big game, but in both games of this Southern California swing, Gonzaga’s energy levels were disappointingly inconsistent. The final seven minutes of the LMU game and the second half against USD (most of it) is the team that has to show up consistently away from the Kennel.
  9. This is probably the first game all season where Clarke lost his discipline on multiple occasions and bit on pump fakes, leading to foul trouble for most of the evening. With Tillie out and Petrusev ineffective during his limited minutes on the floor, we got a peek at what the worst case scenario would be during the NCAA Tournament if Clarke or Rui can’t stay out of foul trouble.
  10. The Zags didn’t look great on this road trip, but they’ve also spoiled us with how many blowouts they’ve dished out this season. Both LMU and USD gave Gonzaga (relatively) competitive games in Spokane, so it’s not surprising at all that the Zags had a tough go of things at their respective gyms. They still managed to pull off double digit victories in each game. If you really want to play the spin zone game, it was probably helpful to have some tests in February and play in tight games in the second half rather than enter the postseason with Gonzaga’s sense of vulnerability dulled thanks to two months of blowout victories.