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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Saint Mary’s

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NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It is always immensely satisfying to beat Saint Mary’s, but even more so on Senior Night with the team’s “elder” statesmen getting the chance to cap off their careers in appropriate fashion. What made this one even better was having Rui Hachimura back in the building to partake in what would have been his Senior Night as well, surprising the crowd to rejoin his Gonzaga family and brother in Killian Tillie as members of that great 2016 class that included Zach Collins and Zach Norvell. Senior manager Mac Graff walking out to center court and a standing ovation capped off a truly special evening.

Oh, there was also a basketball game that was played:

  1. I love the way that Killian Tillie set the tone at the beginning of the game for his final competitive appearance in The Kennel. Everyone follows his lead. He has been a phenomenal leader for this team, and has literally given his body to to this program over the last 4 years. He has been a great Zag and a crucial part to a dominant 4-year stretch for the program. Let’s get him back to the Final Four to close out his career.
  2. Gonzaga’s defense is still in a bit of disarray. The coaching staff has tried to mix it up by tweaking how hard they are showing on ball screens, but the end results haven’t changed too much. With that said, for as frustrating as Gonzaga’s team defense has been with respect to ball screen actions, the one-on-one defense has been superb. Fitts was locked down again, and once the coaches committed Gilder to shadowing Ford all over the floor during the second half, SMC’s halfcourt offense was essentially grounded.
  3. Great bounce back from Kispert after laying an egg last Saturday on ESPN. Could a chance to redeem himself on national TV to deliver for his graduating buddies and he didn’t disappoint.
  4. Can’t understand why you would ever go underneath a screen or give Jordan Ford any daylight on the perimeter. Woolridge is quick enough to stay with him even if he’s going over a screen, so I’m confounded as to why he so willingly sags off. We saw the same issues last week with Haws and Toolson.
  5. Joel Ayayi struggled with his handles in the first half, which inhibited his ability to get to the rim. Just part of his struggles over the last month or so. His rebounding has been consistent even during his offensive woes, however, and hopefully the stretch he put together over the final 10 minutes of the game can rekindle the magic he displayed throughout the first half of the season.
  6. Woolridge did a lot of damage getting penetration into the paint and collapsing the Saint Mary’s defense. He’s at his best going downhill, and while Gonzaga’s offense doesn’t really ask him to win a lot off the dribble, he creates so many opportunities with that aspect of his game. Good to have that in your back pocket, as there will be the need for it in the tournament.
  7. Kispert and Tillie have done a great job this season of taking Malik Fitts out of the equation for the Gaels. Fitts had a little burst near the end of the second half as the game was slipping away, which makes his overall box score numbers look decent, but he was pretty much a non-entity over the two games between these teams this year, and credit for that should go to the job done by #33 and #24.
  8. SMC was much better at defending Gonzaga’s high-low action. The Gaels didn’t allow the low man to walk his defender up the paint to create a passing angle and space for the catch and score, and they usually had a help defender gapping backside to contest if the pass was converted.
  9. I’ve been pretty critical of Petrusev and his lack of toughness/unwillingness to play through contact in the post. In the second half, we saw him go to town against SMC’s defense, proving how devastating he can be when he puts his head down and stops pleading with the refs for a whistle on every other possession. It also underscored why it’s so maddening to watch him cough up the ball or throw it up weakly when he has stretches like the second half of this game.
  10. The backcourt trio of Woolridge, Gilder, and Ayayi combined for only 6 points in the first half. That’s astounding. They need to be a little more aggressive in hunting for their shots early so opposing defenses can’t key on taking away the interior action. Guard play is what drives teams deep into the tournament, and Gonzaga will need those three to be dynamic in March.