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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win at Santa Clara

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Santa Clara Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

This Gonzaga team has proven time and again that it can overcome adversity. With Killian Tillie’s recent injury, it will have to do so again. The second half of the road win at Santa Clara was a good preview of what we can expect to see if Tillie misses time, which is likely considering the precautions the coaching staff has taken with his health throughout the season. Here’s what I took away from Thursday night:

  1. Tremendous effort from Filip Petrusev who really stepped up to the plate in this game after Tillie went down. He carried the team on his back in the second half, and put together his best performance in a Gonzaga uniform. Excellent work taking advantage of his matchup opportunities in the post and demanding the ball in the paint.
  2. Corey Kispert opted not to wear his #24 jersey for this game as a tribute to Kobe Bryant, and it felt like he channeled a lot of Kobe’s energy early on as he got off to a strong start at both ends of the floor. His shooting stroke got real cold as the game progressed, so perhaps the #53 jersey he wore won’t see a return, but it was a thoughtful gesture.
  3. Hats off to the Broncos for adjusting their defensive approach (they had to after the last three games against Gonzaga…) by mixing in more pressure zones and aggressively trapping in the post and against the sidelines. They did a good job of making life uncomfortable for the Zags and taking away their preferred passing lanes.
  4. Petrusev’s post defense is much stronger when he stays on his feet and just stays tall, rather than biting on fakes looking for blocks. The simple play is always a pretty solid option.
  5. Drew Timme also deserves a lot of credit for being such a reliable option every time he steps on the floor. You wouldn’t think he was just a true freshman, but he’s proven he can handle the expanded responsibilities with the squad’s rotation taking so many hits.
  6. It was only three minutes, but Martynas Arlauskas gave the coaching staff a valuable cameo in the second half as he took advantage of the opportunity with a pair of offensive rebounds and a nice finish in transition. Playing with the energy he exhibited during that stint and not blowing any defensive assignments is the recipe for him to win the coaching staff’s trust and earn more time on the floor.
  7. Gonzaga picked up a key stop late in the first half thanks to a perfect defensive sequence from Ryan Woolridge. Despite being severely undersized compared to the big he was guarding, he won position by winning the leverage battle using textbook technique. He then forced the angle for the entry pass, placing himself in ideal position to force a perfect pass over the top. Of course, he capped it off with a feat of athleticism by intercepting the entry pass at its peak. That was the type of sequence that needs to go on a teaching reel.
  8. This is the most assertive I’ve seen Santa Clara play against the Zags in the last few years. Guess they got tired of losing by 50+ points.
  9. The perimeter defense is going to struggle even more without Tillie in the lineup as the guards will be sent to double the post much more frequently and be left scrambling to cover the three-point line. This has already been a problem area for most of the season, and they’ll be walking a fine line over the next few games.
  10. There’s no sugarcoating it, the Zags lose a lot of bite without Killian Tillie in the lineup. He’s such a vital piece at both ends of the floor due to his versatility. Playing a 6-man rotation, Gonzaga will have a tough time getting through this portion of the schedule unscathed if he misses any time.