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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win at Portland

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Portland Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but they won’t all be games worthy of re-watching on the DVR. Let’s all be grateful that Gonzaga managed to turn things around in the second half to walk out of the Chiles Center with a win. That’s a sentence I did not imagine I would be writing this season.

  1. There’s no better tone-setter than forcing a shot clock violation on your first defensive possession. That led to five forced turnovers in the first five minutes of the game from a Gonzaga defense that was playing aggressively. I thought for sure we were on our way to a much-needed stingy performance for the defense. I was wrong.
  2. Gonzaga’s first half featured some very poor halfcourt execution which gave me flashbacks to the UT Arlington game earlier in the season. The offense pretty much only looked good in transition during the first half. In the halfcourt, the Zags looked like they had never played together before as the Pilots had a lot of success disrupting Gonzaga’s ball movement.
  3. Portland consistently tried to trap the ball in the post on defense with 2-3 defenders, and did a good job of mixing up the angles that the help defenders were coming from to disguise their coverages in the first half. The Zags did not handle it well in the first half, to say the least.
  4. It’s time to make the defensive adjustment and have the guards stay at home on the perimeter rather than following the ball into the paint to help in the post and crash the boards. That was a scheme choice the coaches made for this season, but opposing teams are having way too easy of a time getting good looks from the arc. There’s a reason why Gonzaga is ranked #242 in the country in three-point defense at the time of this writing, and having opposing teams light it up from the arc will make the Zags very susceptible to upsets.
  5. The Zags made sound adjustments at halftime and tightened things up considerably in the second half. They stayed at home more often on their defensive man assignments and spread the floor more effectively on offense to mitigate Portland’s trapping. Despite that, Portland still finished the game shooting over 50% from the field and over 60% from the three-point line, even after coming back down to earth in the second half.
  6. Ryan Woolridge was key to Gonzaga’s second half run that stabilized the game. His poise in executing the offense both in transition and the halfcourt, along with the continuation of his best shooting form in his college career, has been a big boon to his team. Imagine what this season would look like if he had not transferred to GU.
  7. This is the first time that a lot of the Zags in the rotation have gotten a taste of what it’s like to have a big target on your back as the No. 1 team in the country. You get every team’s best effort, and if you don’t match their energy and focus, things can get away from you real fast. Just ask Kentucky, Louisville, and Duke.
  8. Anton Watson had to leave the game late in the first half after his left shoulder popped out again. This occurrence came on a very innocuous play where he blocked a shot with his right hand. It looks like the contact he absorbed doing that alone was enough, which makes it very dubious that he’ll continue to be available as the season goes along.
  9. Good call by the coaching staff to employ some “load management” last Monday and hold Killian Tillie out of the game against Detroit Mercy. That paid dividends in this game. Even though Tillie started off the game slow and out of sync, likely due to his nearly two-week layoff, he was fresh in the second half when Gonzaga needed every single one of his 18 points. It would probably be wise to give him another night off here or there throughout the remainder of conference play to ensure that his body is as good as it can be for the NCAA Tournament.
  10. Portland went 0-17 in the WCC last year (including the WCC Tournament), but if the Pilots play as hard as they did against the Zags that won’t happen this year.