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10 Observations From Gonzaga’s Win Over West Virginia

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NCAA Basketball: Jimmy V Classic-West Virginia at Gonzaga Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone take a deep breath. This game was shaping up to be a disaster for Gonzaga, until it wasn’t. In what was one of the more roller coaster games in recent memory, the Zags dug in and willed their way to victory by hanging 87 points on one of the best defensive teams in the country despite playing abysmal offense for the first half (perspective!). The Zags will have another difficult game on their hands on Saturday, but first, let’s quickly walk through their win in the Jimmy V Classic.

  1. West Virginia’s physicality was as advertised. Their prowess on the offensive boards showed up early as they crashed the glass hard which inhibited Gonzaga’s transition game. At the other end of the floor, the Mountaineers’ ability to effectively apply pressure man defense and protect the rim disrupted the flow of Gonzaga’s offense and made the Zags uncomfortable.
  2. Even with Jalen Suggs dodging a bullet, Andrew Nembhard’s waiver and decision to forego his redshirt plan is looking really clutch now. He was a monster in the second half, and will have plenty more performances like that this season. He just needs to get the jumper sorted as he’s still searching for his shooting stroke. It was the weakest part of his game at Florida. He’s not a horrible shooter, but it’s definitely the area where he could make the greatest gains. If he can evolve while at GU a la Ryan Woolridge, that would make him a complete offensive player. His passing, ability to direct the offense, and craftiness to get to the rim are all big pluses.
  3. The video of Corey Kispert playing with his bulldog puppy is the best content ESPN has had on its airwaves all year.
  4. The Zags had just started to put together some momentum offensively when Jalen Suggs went down. His injury completely sucked the energy out of the team. You can see how much he means to the group not just as a player, but as a teammate. That was a gut punch to the entire squad.
  5. The Mountaineers bottled up Drew Timme and got him completely out of his game. He looked quite bothered by the length and physicality of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver in the first. He made the adjustment in the second half by attacking them more aggressively and forcing them into foul trouble. That’s what you want to see.
  6. Oumar Ballo has already made progress from where he was just last week. He ended up with 10 minutes, and made a lot of positive contributions in the first half as the Zags were looking for solutions to combat West Virginia’s interior. The game still looks like it is a little too quick for him at times, but his comfort level and confidence are increasing.
  7. I loved the way the Zags came out of the locker with renewed energy and focus after a very disjointed first half. They took West Virginia’s best shot, dusted themselves off, figured out what they needed to do to win and executed. Games like this where you struggle to do the things you normally do well is what prepares teams to navigate the gauntlet of March Madness.
  8. Watching Joel Ayayi navigate the court is art in motion. He puts himself in a position for the ball to find him. 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. He’s an incredible asset to have in the lineup.
  9. Gonzaga won a tight game wherein Timme and Anton Watson both fouled out, Corey Kispert was battling foul trouble, and Jalen Suggs was hobbled ( initially looking like he might be lost for the season!). That is big time.
  10. I think everyone saw the national championship aspirations flash before their eyes when Suggs went down, so throwing him right back in the game seems like a strange way to thank the basketball gods for sparing him. Tempting fate much? Mark Few spoke after the game that Suggs was very convincing when asking to go back in, and the training staff assured him that Suggs was good to go. Imagine having the courage to put your most talented player back on the floor, IN A DECEMBER GAME, minutes after fearing a possible achilles tear. Mark Few should head to Vegas right now. He’s riding a big wave of luck and has a much higher risk tolerance than I do. Let’s hope that was the only scare Gonzaga has to deal with this season. We need all these guys!

Final note: I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to the great Jimmy V speech, and yet, it still moves me every time. The Jimmy V Foundation, and this event, does great work every year in the fight against cancer. Bravo.