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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Dixie State


NCAA Basketball: Northern Arizona at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that was a fun non-conference slate. Gonzaga closed out the year with an emphatic victory over an overmatched Dixie State squad. Jalen Suggs was held out again to give him some additional time to recover from the knee injury sustained in Saturday’s game against Virginia, but his absence cleared the runway for others to shine.

  1. The Oumar Ballo game! A big key in Oumar Ballo’s development is learning how to play through contact. For someone his size, he should be able to dominate physically much more than he showed through these very early days in his career. On a number of occasions this season you could see him waiting for the contact to happen and then stopping his action once it does. Finishing plays—whether scoring or securing a rebound—must be a point of emphasis. This game was his best in terms of playing with physicality, but there’s definitely still a lot more to be tapped.
  2. Credit to Dixie State who came to play in the biggest game they’ll have all season, and likely the next few years, as they integrate into Division I play after making the jump up from DII. They played with a lot of confidence and executed well in their halfcourt offense. They were shorthanded for this game, but showed they are going to be a good program in the WAC as they build over the next few seasons.
  3. I would have liked to see Gonzaga press Dixie State aggressively after the first few possessions when it was apparent that they were a little too comfortable. Gonzaga’s defense was a little too casual through the first 10 minutes of the game, but finally turned up the pressure during the second part of the first half to get the blowout in full swing.
  4. After Monday night’s game, Ayayi admitted he had been in a little bit of an offensive funk to kick off the season. Folks, I think he’s out of it now. He’s found great rhythm shooting from the arc over the last two games, and his off-ball movement was so good. His offensive performance through the last two games begs the question of whether he subconsciously blunted his offensive aggression in deference to Suggs.
  5. Andrew Nembhard’s three-ball still needs work. Without the intensive focus of a redshirt season, he’s not getting as much of an opportunity to clean it up. He’s taking quality, open shots in the flow of the offense and isn’t forcing up any bad attempts, so you can’t fault him for the shots he’s taking. I’ve said it a few times this season but his shot is the part of his game that is currently depressing his professional prospects.
  6. It’s aspirational how Corey Kispert has turned himself into a complete player over the four years he’s been at Gonzaga. He can score from any spot on the floor now, has tightened his handle, operate in the pick-and-roll, and improved physically which has helped his ability to defend. You have to admire the work he’s put in.
  7. Julian Strawther had some nice moments in this game to bounce back after an uneven showing on Monday night. He made a good read cutting to the basket in the space vacated by a defender who left to double Timme (who made a great pass to Strawther), and then had a great baseline cut to set up a dunk off a low-post feed from Ayayi. That’s development happening in real time right in front of our eyes.
  8. Gonzaga put on a passing clinic in this game (and really every game). Count your lucky stars that your favorite basketball team plays free-flowing beautiful basketball.
  9. I loved seeing Brian Michaelson encouraging Dominick Harris midway through the second half during a timeout. Harris had missed a layup after a great drive to the rim that flashed his quickness, and followed it up shortly thereafter with a nice assist to Kispert in transition. The coaches don’t miss the opportunities to affirm players for making a positive play instead of sulking.
  10. Ben Gregg sighting! What a crazy month it must have been for the newest member of the Zags. He started it as a high school senior and finished it playing a real game in The Kennel in a Gonzaga uniform.