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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Northwestern State

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NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Zags are home for the holidays! It’s nice to finally see them back in The Kennel after what seemed like a lifetime away (Kraziness doesn’t count). Drew Timme even had a special treat for fans as he rocked a magnificent mustache that was the envy of this writer. What else did we see on Monday night?

  1. Never say college basketball isn’t a funny game. The first half saw the #1 team in the country suffer its worst half of the season at the hands of the vaunted Northwestern State Demons. Considering the competition and circumstances, it was worse than the first half against West Virginia. Before this game was played, Few commented that the current edition of the Bulldogs did not yet match the attentiveness to details that his Final Four squad achieved. This is what he meant, and that group is the benchmark that this team is still working towards.
  2. Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris opened their collegiate scoring accounts in this game and looked very comfortable doing it. It feels like Harris has been a Zag for years, so it was particularly special to see him do his thing in The Kennel. There’s going to be a lot of buckets to come from that pair in the years ahead, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch each of them.
  3. Encouraged to see Anton Watson hunting his shot early in the game. As I’ve mentioned before, he doesn’t need to be a double digit scorer in this offense, but he needs to maintain himself as a scoring threat. A point of emphasis for him moving forward is finishing with authority at the rim. He has the strength and athleticism to be a much stronger finisher around the basket.
  4. Jalen Suggs’ help-side defense is so good. His instincts and elite athleticism make him Gonzaga’s best shot blocker.
  5. The second unit struggled with executing Gonzaga’s halfcourt offense, but I liked that Kispert was active and vocal in rallying that group and settling them in. That’s where the value of senior leadership is on display.
  6. Julian Strawther had some freshman moments holding on to the ball in the first half. That’s why you play these games—so those things happen against Northwestern State and not Virginia. Despite those little mishaps, there was a lot to like about his performance.
  7. The first two possessions of the second half is how you expect elite teams to respond after a sub-par second half.
  8. Mark Few went with the death lineup to open the second half with Andrew Nembhard on the floor in place of Watson. It was an interesting move from Few, who rarely deviates from the starting lineup to start a half. Perhaps it portends a change to the starting lineup in the not too distant future, or maybe Few was just challenging his young forward. If the latter, it may have worked as Watson was a force during the final 20 minutes of the game.
  9. The battle in games against teams like Northwestern State isn’t a physical one as much as it is a mental one. Maintaining mental acuity, creating your own energy, and cleanly executing your game plan cannot be a part-time endeavor.
  10. You never see back-to-backs against the same team in college basketball, so it will be interesting to see what adjustments—if any—the two teams make in the rematch. I would expect the Zags to play more like the team we saw in the second half rather than the first. They tried to force the pace too much, at times, in the first, and in the second half were much more focused on running crisp actions in their halfcourt offense. Northwestern State dialed down its tempo significantly in the first game, which is understandable considering it was the first night of a triple header and the middle of five games in six nights which is truly an astonishing amount of games. It was a smart move as getting into a track meet with Gonzaga is quick way to having 120 points hung on you, so I would expect them to follow the same blueprint in round two.