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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Pepperdine

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NCAA Basketball: Pepperdine at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are experiencing the burden of the No. 1 ranking. After a close call in the WCC opener in Portland on Thursday, Gonzaga’s uneven play continued against the Pepperdine Waves who nearly walked out of The Kennel with a W. The Zags didn’t play particularly well, but they continue to find ways to stack wins.

  1. Here’s what happens when you’re the No. 1 team in the country, the teams you’re scouting on film are not the ones that show up to play you. The Pepperdine squad that lost to a bad San Jose State team a week ago by the score of 83-68 is not the team that Gonzaga saw on Saturday night. The Waves played with much greater energy, confidence, and focus against the Bulldogs. Every team wants to be the group that knocks off a No. 1, and they all play with irrational confidence since they’re already expected to lose. The Zags will have no margin for error against any team they play for as long as they’re No. 1.
  2. Speaking of margin for error, Gonzaga’s ball security in this game was wildly disappointing. 17 turnovers against a Pepperdine team that doesn’t defend well is not a statistic I expected to see. There were numerous inexplicable and inexcusable turnovers throughout the course of the game. The Zags don’t defend well enough to be able to throw the ball around with reckless abandon.
  3. In a disturbing trend, Gonzaga has steadily moved in the wrong direction in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings over the last five weeks. The Zags finished November ranked 24th in that category following the Battle 4 Atlantis, but now find themselves at 63rd. Their peak ranking this season was #13 before the UT-Arlington game on November 19.
  4. Other than Killian Tillie, the Zags generally struggled to stop Pepperdine’s penetration. The Edwards brothers and Colbey Ross had a lot of success winning off the bounce and getting a layup or dishing outside for an open three. In recent weeks, Gonzaga has struggled to find the right balance with stopping penetration while not overhelping, and it’s an area that needs to improve drastically if the Zags hope to continue their winning ways.
  5. For only the second time in his college career, and first time since January 21, 2017 when he was still at North Texas, Ryan Woolridge was shut out of the scoring column. Despite playing 29 minutes, Woolridge only attempted three shots and looked to be spending most of his time on offense resting as he had his hands full at the other end trying to slow down Colbey Ross.
  6. Ross got the triple double you don’t want, as he finished the night with 10 turnovers in addition to his 24 points and 10 assists, but his talent was easy to see. The junior point guard is the straw that stirs the drink for Pepperdine. In a season in which the Zags have had to defend talents like Payton Pritchard and Nico Mannion, I’d say he gave them the most fits.
  7. I have tremendous respect for Anton Watson’s willingness to gut out his shoulder injury. But it’s evident he is severely limited on the floor as he tries to avoid any movement that could cause his shoulder to pop out again, and looks like a shell of the player we saw in the first few weeks of the season. With that in mind, is the 6 minutes he’s providing worth it or is he, and the team, better served by shutting him down for the next month to try and give his shoulder the chance to stabilize and heal?
  8. Nice rebound game from Admon Gilder after a tough night in Portland on Thursday. Gonzaga desperately needs him to be a consistent producer for the rest of the season.
  9. Killian Tillie scored 20+ points for the second game in a row, and was once again tremendous in the second half as he willed Gonzaga to victory while playing on one leg. There is no team in the WCC that will have an answer for him this season, and if he can stay on the floor I expect him to pick up the WCC Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
  10. This wasn’t a beautiful performance by any means, but at the end of the day the Zags continue to find ways to win when they don’t have their best stuff, and that’s the most important trait you can hope for in a team. Is this team flawed? Yes. Is every team in the country flawed? Yes. What separates Gonzaga and the rest of the field is that when those teams have bad nights, they lose, while Gonzaga does not. Let’s appreciate that.