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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over USF

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NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

That was maybe the hardest fought 17-point victory in the history of basketball. The Zags did not make it easy on themselves, but that 71-54 scoreline makes them look pretty good. Here’s what I took away from Thursday night’s action:

  1. First things first, it was great to see Tillie moving confidently and playing aggressively at both ends of the floor from the outset of the game. That signals he still trusts his leg despite the issues he’s dealt with this season, and for too much of his collegiate career. He’s Gonzaga’s most important player, so it’s encouraging to see him play so freely.
  2. Once again, USF put together a really strong defensive effort in the first half. The Dons did a good job of defending Gonzaga’s pick-n-roll, and the individual defending was strong enough to avoid needing to overhelp and compromise the integrity of their defensive system.
  3. On the other hand, Gonzaga’s defense got roasted by USF’s drive and kick game, frequently handing the Dons wide open threes on the perimeter when too many defenders got sucked into the paint. This has happened a lot this year, so I’m not expecting them to wrinkle out these issues anymore, but it’s still quite annoying.
  4. The Dons employed the same aggressive perimeter defense and timely corner trapping they implemented in the first game, and once again succeeded in completely disrupting the rhythm of Gonzaga’s offense. The pressure forced Gonzaga into a lot of bad spots on the floor and a lot of tentative shots.
  5. The Zags have been so lethal in transition all year long that I just assumed they would always be automatic on the break. Not so in this first half. There were plenty of opportunities, but as a group they failed to consistently make the simple play and the paid for it.
  6. Gonzaga responded to its dismal first half with much better defensive intensity and focus to start the second. The Zags actually managed to close their traps on the perimeter rather than doubling just for show, and forced the Dons into a slew of turnovers which sparked the comeback. The Dons did themselves no favors with some of the decisions they made with the ball, but it was evident that they were even more uncomfortable on offense in the second half than Gonzaga was in the first.
  7. The Zags were much better at quickly cycling the ball in the halfcourt offense and manipulating USF’s defense which allowed them to get easier looks and capitalize against an opponent that was tiring.
  8. USF has been really good this year at locking up the guards, but that approach has left them exposed on the back end as Petrusev/Timme torched them in the Bay, and Tillie/Petrusev did the same in Spokane.
  9. The Dons have probably played the two best first halves against Gonzaga all season. Twice USF appeared to have Gonzaga on the ropes, and twice they couldn’t get the job done. It goes to show how difficult it is to put an elite team away. That is, of course, unless you’re NC State and Duke (I couldn’t help myself).
  10. If only there was some way to get mad Gonzaga without having to endure bad Gonzaga. The team we saw in the second half played with a lot of attitude, and there was no way that group was going to end the evening with anything other than a win. You really have to appreciate how mentally tough this team has been all season.