The marathon starts again with an expected result for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, knocking off the Dixie State Trailblazers with a 97-63 victory. The Zags showcased a brand of defense that could be the calling card for their journey back to the national championship.
1. The defense is legit. Chet Holmgren’s 7 blocks tied a single-game record for the team, but the Zags performed elite defense throughout the game from multiple positions. Anton Watson racked up 5 steals in the game and seemed to be able to rip the ball at will. Dixie State finished shooting 35.4% from the field and with 21 turnovers.
2. I received a bit of flack when I argued that Holmgren could be the greatest shot blocker in Gonzaga history. And the contention was understandable, considering the prowess that Brandon Clarke displayed in his lone season playing with Gonzaga. Clarke tallied a high of 6 blocks twice in 2018-2019. Holmgren had his 6th block with 50 seconds left in the first half. Not only is Clarke’s 117 blocks-in-a-season record on the table but Holmgren could match some of the career block totals.
3. This is a helluva high floor for the offense. Gonzaga struggled to get themselves going in the first half. They had 11 turnovers and their efficiency inside was not what they were accustomed to, with Drew Timme going 1-4 and the team going 2-13 from three. The Zags continued to chop wood and eventually, the looks started falling. With five guys in double digits, Mark Few and company do not need to rely on the same approach to win.
4. Julian Strawther is the latest Gonzaga microwave. In a game where the offense wasn’t coming easy, and the Trailblazers were able to hang around into the second half, it was a personal 9-point-run five minutes into the second half that really opened up the offense and put the game out of reach. In that run, he also notched an assist and steal and showcased that he’s a multi-dimensional player.
5. With the unbelievable talent in the frontcourt, the high-low and inside-out style of offense initiation is going to highlight the elite passing talent of the Gonzaga big men. Watson led the team with 7 assists last night and was followed by Holmgren with 6 dimes. A lot of the offense will start on the elbow this year.
6. Racing Rasir Bolton is a fastbreak maestro and a great emergency valve for the offense. He scored 15 points on an efficient 7 shot attempts and was 3-4 from outside. Bolton’s elite speed and veteran experience (0 turnovers) make him an essential security blanket for this young team.
7. The rotation debate continues on as Brian Michaelson subbed in 10 Zags in the first 17 minutes of last night’s game. It’s hard to imagine that style of rotation continuing on as the schedule becomes tougher and tougher.
8. Hunter Sallis attempted to get a charge call in the second half and received a technical warning for flopping. Outside of debating whether or not it was necessarily a good call, the new flop technical rule will be a call to watch out for this season.
9. It’s clear that this is not the finished product on offense. As the young guys become more and more confident with their understanding of Few’s systems, the ball movement and looks will improve. We saw little pick-and-roll action last night and the 15 turnovers suggest that the team cohesion isn’t there quite yet.
10. The Zags will need to continue to exploit their excellent transition offense. Teams are going to try and slow the game down but the Zags will need to find ways to get out and run. They scored 22 fastbreak points and 24 points off of turnovers.