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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win at USF

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23-1

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at San Francisco Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re down to six bodies in your rotation and you’re on the road, you just need to find a way to win. That’s what Gonzaga did in a nail-biter against a tough opponent. Credit to the Dons for taking Gonzaga all the way to the bitter end, but as we’ve already seen many times throughout this season, this Gonzaga team is tough to put down:

  1. Mark Few called a high-low set with Timme to Petrusev on the game’s first possession, and the Zags went right back into the post to Timme on the following possession signaling there would be no change in Gonzaga’s approach even without Tillie in the lineup. That faith was rewarded with phenomenal games from both bigs, who carried Gonzaga as the rest of the rotation struggled for the first 30 minutes of the contest.
  2. USF applied heavy pressure on the perimeter for most of the afternoon, looking to jump every dribble handoff and disrupt the timing of Gonzaga’s offense. It was very effective early on as the guards were seemingly taken out of the game, but also allowed Gonzaga to feast on the high-low action with USF so extended.
  3. The off ball movement was very stagnant for much of the afternoon. The nation’s most efficient offense only managed 8 assists on 27 made field goals which indicates just how much the offense struggled in this game, and relied heavily on individual playmaking. The Zags have excelled in making the extra pass to find the open man against an aggressive defense, but struggled in that department on Saturday.
  4. I know there has been an emphasis on the wings helping the interior on defense all season long, and which I have discussed here many times already. This is probably even more of a point of emphasis now that the frontcourt is so shorthanded, so I understand where the guards focus is. However, the Zags cannot completely abandon the perimeter. They were much better in the second half at not drifting too far inside and communicating on rotations to effectively close out on shooters, which drove USF’s shooting numbers down as the game went along.
  5. Very poor first half from Kispert, Ayayi, and Woolridge who combined for seven points in the first 20 minutes. With Tillie out of the picture, the Zags can’t get away with no-shows from those guys. Kispert didn’t make his first field goal until the 12-minute mark of the second half, and Ayayi didn’t have his until four minutes later at the 8:16 mark.
  6. The disparity in three point attempts between the two teams was quite stark. Gonzaga went 4-5 from the arc, while USF attempted more than 5x times that amount and finished 7-28. Many wondered why Gonzaga didn’t take more attempts considering USF has one of the lowest marks in the country in opponents three-point field goal percentage. However, the Dons are also one of the best teams in the country at denying three-point attempts (currently 9th), and it was apparent why (see #2 above). Their perimeter pressure really forces the ball inside, but when they give up a look, it’s going to be a good one.
  7. I can’t recall seeing the Zags fall down on dribble drives, mess up their offensive spacing, or mishandle passes so often in one game. Whether it was the early afternoon start or fatigue, they looked to be victims of the fog of war. It was strange.
  8. Gonzaga’s first made three-pointer in this game came with 12 minutes left in the game. That’s stunning. I know Tillie is one of Gonzaga’s best shooters, but the lack of three-point shooting from Gonzaga in the last two games is highly concerning (even after considering what I discussed in #6 above). When you consider the small lineups that Gonzaga is being forced to play, which spreads the floor with more shooters, you would think that a greater percentage of the scoring would come from the arc.
  9. Drew Timme was absolutely phenomenal in this game. The Zags needed a big effort from him with Tillie out and the backcourt struggling for much of the afternoon, and he delivered on all fronts. The moment never looked too big for him, and he showed why he’s been such a big part of Gonzaga’s success throughout the year.
  10. This Gonzaga team has incredible fight in it. It looked like they were well on their way to a loss during that putrid first half, but they worked together in the second half to claw back. They toughed out a victory by sheer force of will. That deserves our respect and admiration.