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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to Duke

Tough pill to swallow, but it’s for the team’s health

NCAA Basketball: Continental Tire Challenge-Duke at Gonzaga Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

In the tightest game Gonzaga has played all season, we learned a lot about this Gonzaga team and its strengths and weaknesses. The Zags fought and stayed within this game and found a way to capture the lead at several points in the second half. Here are some observations from the Black Friday matchup.

  1. Against elite athleticism, Gonzaga’s aggressive hedge defense to ball screens just doesn’t seem to offer the best result. The Blue Devils are the first team to match Gonzaga’s points in the paint, scoring 24 points inside in the first half.
  2. From the start, there were traces of the national championship game where the Zags struggled to respond to aggressive ball pressure, not allowing them to start the offense in comfortable spots.
  3. Unlike the national championship, this team made a concerted effort to adapt to that aggression and stuck around throughout the game. Credit is due for a team staying within a possession when giving up the turnover margin by four.
  4. The coaching staff is going to need to teach the bigs how to not guard with their hands and body. Every big faced tough foul troubles because of their instinct to defend with their hands.
  5. The Zags having dudes is legit, no matter the stage. This was yet another game where multiple guys inserted themselves into the fray and came up huge. Zags stuck around and fought in large part to Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther stepping up.
  6. With the worst defensive showing the Zags have shown all year in that first half, Duke only had a 3 point lead. While the Zags are not unbeatable, it seems like you can’t take them out of any game they show up to.
  7. We knew that ball possession was going to be a deciding factor in this game. The Zags had an unusual issue of turning the ball over regardless of the level of aggression the Duke defense showed. Andrew Nembhard had a career-high in turnovers (6) while still distributing 11 assists. Timme also had five costly turnovers. The team had a season-high of 17 turnovers. Duke won this margin by 9 turnovers.
  8. Gonzaga struggled to deal with Duke’s drives to the basket but otherwise showed decent defensive effort holding the Blue Devils to a poor shooting night. Trying to guard the lengthy and fast backcourt of Duke is a great litmus test for what these guards need to do to prepare against similar athleticism.
  9. The undefeated conversation is over. This team can just work on getting better and not have to live up to any outside expectations than that of the Bulldogs locker room. This team will be able to respond with big games still left on their schedule.
  10. This will be an incredible game to go back to measure where this team is in Spring. Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman played a combined 14 minutes. As this young team gets more experience, these tough games will no doubt impact their demeanor and fight in March and April.