The tune-up games are over and Gonzaga looks good. They’ll have to as they face #2 UCLA tonight and #5 Duke three days later.
1. Sean Farnham started the tonight’s telecast with a sensationalized assessment of Chet Holmgren being somewhat of a disappointment this season, especially against Texas. Chet then proceeded to have his best game thus far; 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and two assists. I’m sure he had an additional block and assist he didn’t get credited. His entry passes in the high-low game, to both Timme and Watson, were exceptional, his defensive footwork belies his size and he’s getting more comfortable with every game. The young man is such a force defensively, as he proved in the Texas game, that his achievements don’t have to appear on the stat sheet for him to be an integral, effective and intimidating part of the team.
2. The Zags forced central Michigan to commit 17 turnovers while GU had eight steals and six blocks. Gonzaga’s “only” 14th in KenPom on adjusted defense but don’t let that number fool you. They coasted in the 2nd half against Texas allowing them to score 47 points and have liberally substituted in every other game. Gonzaga’s defense is elite and will rise up the defensive rankings as the season progresses. I don’t foresee UCLA shooting anywhere close to the 58% they shot in April.
3. Kaden Perry once again had 30 seconds of awesome. A Watson steal led to a nice reverse pivot and score over two defenders. On the next possession, Watson had another steal and tossed an outlet pass to Sallis who missed the lay-up. Perry ran through the lane and followed with a two-handed slam. An impressed Farnham immediately quoted Few who’d said, “we’ve just scratched the surface of Perry’s potential.”
4. Speaking of Watson, he filled up the stat sheet tonight after two subpar games and a Mark Few rear-chewing (at least it looked like it on TV). Besides the two steals mentioned above, he had two swat blocks (only credited for one) three assists 6 rebounds and 7 points. Hopefully the Bellarmine game was an anomaly and he doesn’t draw early fouls. His defense could be the key to a victory tonight and I can see him guarding both Juzang and Jaquez at various times during the game.
5. Like Chet, Nolan Hickman had the best game of his short college career; 16 points of 7 for 11 shooting with 2 steals. The best way to describe his play is effortless. He seemingly glides to the rim shooting a feathery floaters or a soft bank shots high off the glass. The first guard off the bench, he’s dealt 11 assists against only 3 turnovers in the five games. I’m really impressed with his defense and look forward to watching him battle Tyger Campbell.
6. Central Michigan double and triple teamed Drew Timme every time he touched the ball. Early in tonight’s contest, he took the entry pass from Nembhard, got double-teamed, the immediately kicked back to Nembhard who drained the three. Sadly, it was his only make from three on the night and the four primary guards only shot 3 for 15 from deep tonight. Let’s hope Bolton returns to form and Nembhard and Hickman find their range.
7. While the guards are struggling from three, Julian Strawther is shooting 50% on 18 attempts this season including 3 for 5 tonight. Maybe it’s because he’s shooting so well, but I don’t remember watching a game and thinking he’d taken a bad shot. He also had two impressive finishes at the rim tonight.
8. It seems like it’s said on every 10 Observations column, but Rasir Bolton is fast. He had a play early in the first half where he seemed to find an extra gear and got to the basket before the defense had time to turn around. It’s phenomenal how time-after-time transfers are seamlessly integrated into the Gonzaga system becoming essential pieces. I’m sure he’s having the best time of his college career now that Gonzaga has two and half times more wins than his Iowa State team did the entire last season.
9. I’ve really enjoyed the second half “garbage time” in these less than competitive games when some combination of Watson, Sallis, Perry, Gregg, Hickman and Strawther play together. It’s great insight on how next year’s team will look (should they all return) and it’s fun to envision on how well this team would currently compete against the WCC. Add Harris to the group along with the recruits and a transfer or two and things are looking good again next season.
10. Speaking of the WCC, the conference was 6 – 1 tonight with wins against Notre Dame, SMU and TCU. The sole loss was Pepperdine against Fresno State in a game Pepperdine should have won if they didn’t commit 18 turnovers. I know early every season we discuss how much the conference has improved only to be disappointed as the season progresses. Maybe not this season, at 32 – 4 so far this could be the most competitive year for the WCC in recent memory and two or three NCAA tournament bids could happen.