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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to SMC

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30-3

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s all back away from the edge. Yes, this was an ugly, ugly loss at a point in the season where everything is magnified. Gonzaga’s critics will be armed with fresh ammo to “debate” the credentials of a team that should still be seeded as a #1 when the Selection Sunday show airs despite this little setback. That’s not important. What is important, however, is how this team responds after its first taste of defeat since mid-December. I’m inclined to trust the character this team has demonstrated all season long rather than be fooled by a single poor showing.

  1. Similar to the first half of the game in Moraga, Gonzaga’s transition opportunities were few and far between in the first half of this game. Unlike the semifinal against Pepperdine, Gonzaga wasn’t seeing any numerical advantages in transition and SMC effectively broke up the few transition opportunities that Gonzaga did manage to create. Give credit to the Gaels for being so disciplined with the ball and for being hyper-vigilant about beating the Zags down the floor and forcing them to play slow halfcourt basketball.
  2. Gonzaga’s offense had no flow to it at any point in the game. Saint Mary’s defense did an excellent job of taking away easy passing angles into the paint and forcing the Zags into adjusting the angles of their sets. Gonzaga got out of its ball screen motion offense, and depended heavily on isolation or two-man basketball to do the heavy lifting.
  3. SMC’s Malik Fitts picked up his first foul just nine seconds into the game and was immediately subbed out. I thought Randy Bennett overreacted by taking him out right away. Fitts returned to the game after the first media timeout and immediately picked up a second foul 17 seconds later. Guess Bennett was justified in not trusting him.
  4. Big things were expected from SMC’s Tanner Krebs this season, but he’s largely failed to meet those expectations. If he had been able to consistently produce what he showed during the first half, the Gaels could have been in position to pick up an at-large bid this year and not dependent on winning the conference tournament to secure their spot in the field.
  5. In a rare occurrence this season, Gonzaga was outscored 32-24 in the paint. Saint Mary’s kept the Zags spread out on defense, and they capitalized on the one-on-one matchups they were getting in the paint.
  6. Gonzaga got mired in a slow, plodding game, and seemingly made no adjustments to take control of the tempo. The Zags didn’t try to press until the closing minutes, and even that was just a soft 1-2-2 press. Gonzaga’s failure to speed up the Gaels, and contentment in allowing them to walk the ball up the floor and dribble it down to the end of the shot clock on numerous possessions was mind boggling.
  7. It was not Zach Norvell’s night. He had no rhythm on offense and suffered a lot of self-inflicted damage at the defensive end trying to make up for the lack of offensive output.
  8. Jordan Hunter picked a hell of a time to have a career game. He was a problem all game long for Gonzaga’s front court, and I’m disappointed there wasn’t more of a concerted effort to attack him and force him into foul trouble earlier in the game.
  9. This was a valuable final tune-up game for Gonzaga heading into the tournament. There will be opponents who will force Gonzaga into games that are played just like this one, and they need to have that experience of how to execute better in similar circumstances.
  10. The only achievement that matters for this program is still on the table. Let’s hope Gonzaga got all the stink out of its system.