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


NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the year, could you imagine that Joel Ayayi would win the Most Outstanding Player award for the WCC Tournament, and Drew Timme would grab a spot on the All-Tournament team along with Ayayi and Filip Petrusev? It would have been a wild scenario to consider in October, but this has been a wild season in college basketball so this outcome feels appropriate. Those guys earned their awards too, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs earned another WCC crown:

  1. Considering the performances he’s had this season, and particularly in the WCC Tournament, it wasn’t a surprise to see every Gonzaga defender keyed in on Jordan Ford when he had the ball in the halfcourt. While the Zags opted not to overplay ball denials to him or double him constantly in the first half, it was apparent they should have considering how much damage he did in the first half.
  2. SMC struggles so much with breaking down opposing defenses with anyone other than Ford. There were multiple possessions where a set was stalled because they couldn’t get dribble penetration. As we’ve seen twice already this year, Ford can’t do it all himself against the Zags.
  3. Joel Ayayi may have rediscovered his killer instinct at the end of Monday night’s game, as he looked much more aggressive in this game and was regularly getting to the rim or lurking around the rim and in a position to be an offensive threat. He looked like the guy from the non-conference portion of the year who played his way into the starting lineup, and his rediscovered form earned him some nice hardware as the tournament’s MOP (though I would have given the award to Ford).
  4. I was surprised that Gonzaga didn’t play more 4-out on offense to provide Petrusev and Timme more space to post up to their heart’s content against SMC’s overmatched interior defenders. That was there all night for them, as the Gaels did not do a good job of taking away entry passes or effectively doubling the post.
  5. This was a poor tournament for Corey Kispert, though I enjoyed the pep talk he gave to his shooting hand after nailing a big three in the second half. Regression to the mean would suggest he’s going to be lights out during the NCAA Tournament. Let’s hope that’s the case!
  6. Interesting juxtaposition between those two teams at the end of the first half as all 7 of Gonzaga’s rotation players had scored at least three points, while Malik Fitts and Ford combined to score their team’s first 34 points and accounted for 34 of SMC’s 41 first half points. It was an impressive outing by Ford and Fitts, to be sure, but you’re not going to beat a team of Gonzaga’s caliber playing 2-on-5. The Gaels haven’t gotten enough from the rest of the squad to supplement the production of those two guys and take the heat off them when defenses adjust.
  7. Speaking of adjustments, Gonzaga altered its approach on Ford in the second half by committing to aggressively trapping him on ball screens and catches to force the ball out of his hands. It sent the defense scrambling a lot on rotations, but it was effective at forcing the Gaels to try and win with their other players, which spelled the end of their chances at winning the game.
  8. I was stunned to see Ford burn SMC’s last timeout with over 15 minutes left in the game after getting trapped at midcourt. While it ultimately didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the game, and media timeouts and Gonzaga’s own timeouts provided opportunities to regroup or hash out strategy, that seemed like a very shortsighted decision (or more likely he had no awareness of what the TO situation was) to try and salvage a possession that ended up with a turnover anyway.
  9. Drew Timme plays such a simple but mature offensive game. He knows who he is as a player and consistently puts himself in a position to play to his strengths. He’s going to be a rock for this program over the next few years.
  10. Saint Mary’s ran out of steam in the final 10 minutes, but when the Zags decide to buckle down and play defense, they are scary good. Now they have to do it for six straight games.