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

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14-0

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at St. Mary’s Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga sent Saint Mary’s to an 0-3 start in WCC play for the first time in 15 years, but they definitely didn’t do it in style. It might have been a 14 point win that was never really in doubt, but there wasn’t much to like about how it got done except for the fact that the Gaels lost:

  1. The level of familiarity between these two teams was evident throughout the evening. The Gaels knew what reads the Zags were making with the ball and did a nice job of disrupting those passing lanes and cutting off angles. If Saint Mary’s had the shooters they typically do, they probably win this game.
  2. Saint Mary’s did the best job of controlling the pace of the game as any team that Gonzaga has played this season. It was extremely frustrating to watch Gonzaga allow them to control the terms of engagement at both ends of the floor. The tempo clearly disrupted Gonzaga’s offense, which was a shadow of the juggernaut that we’ve seen all season. Gonzaga finished the evening with six assists on 28 made field goals. SIX ASSISTS! That’s an unbelievably low number considering the way this team plays.
  3. In the first half we finally got to see how the Zags would respond to a double digit deficit—their first of the season. The defense responded, kind of (the Gaels let them off the hook a bunch too) as they held Saint Mary’s scoreless for over 5 minutes and put together a 20-3 run and regain the lead inside the final two minutes to close out the first half. That it took that long for Gonzaga to take the lead despite Saint Mary’s offensive impotence underscores just how much the GU offense struggled.
  4. It was stunning to watch Saint Mary’s dominate the first half despite fielding their worst team in the last decade against one of the best teams that Mark Few has ever had. The Gaels, facing a severe athletic disparity, completely outworked Gonzaga on the boards during the first 20 minutes (20 to 11), which is how they survived a cold shooting spell during a prolonged stretch to close out the first half. The Zags didn’t have a single offensive rebound, despite having plenty of opportunities as they shot 33% from the field.
  5. The biggest weakness in Jalen Suggs’ game right now might be his defensive technique. He is (1) extremely handsy, which is why he’s found himself in so much foul trouble through the last four games; (2) has a tendency to defend in an upright stance which makes it more difficult to stop penetration or contest shots without fouling; and (3) trails the play too much (there’s a time and place for trail technique, just not every possession) and gets out of position. His athleticism is obviously off the charts, but he seems to depend on it too much, which ironically gets him in trouble as a defender. This is a pretty easy fix that usually comes from learning through failure, which he’s experiencing at the moment. I bet by the time we get to the tournament he will have made big strides in this area. He has the ability to be an elite defender, but he’s still learning that being an elite defender means attention to detail on every possession more than splashy plays.
  6. We knew that a game would come along where Aaron Cook would come up big for Gonzaga. His time came in this game with the Zags struggling mightily in the first half. Cook’s veteran experience, patience, and sound fundamentals in all aspects of his game allowed him to be a calming presence to a very disjointed squad and help turn the game around.
  7. I really don’t understand why the Zags didn’t go to the full court press for any extended period of time throughout the game. Saint Mary’s were allowed to get into their halfcourt offense too easily all night long. No offense to Tommy Kuhse and Logan Johnson, but this is probably one of the weakest backcourts that Randy Bennett has had in his tenure at SMC. Gonzaga didn’t exploit that enough.
  8. Tough night, and week (going back to the Pepperdine game), for Andrew Nembhard playing on his 21st birthday. He wasn’t able to change the game at all for the Zags to jumpstart some sluggish play. It’s not easy to do that while coming off the bench, but that’s the role asked of him on this team.
  9. This really should have been a game where Drew Timme dominated. He just didn’t get the chance to do it. The Gaels don’t have the personnel to stop him. To be fair, SMC did a good job of defending him through team effort, but his team was also quite poor in getting him the ball. Timme was 3-3 from the field through the game’s first 29 minutes. It’s basketball malpractice for him to only have three field goal attempts 34 of the way through the game.
  10. Gonzaga might have lost this game if not for Joel Ayayi. His activity and ability to score without a single play being called for him really saved the Zags on a night of extensive offensive struggles up and down the lineup.