Keith: Over the last two games, Gonzaga has shot 45.5% and 41.9% from the three-point line and that is with a high volume of threes taken. Is this just a mirage?
Tuck: Okay, so yes? But so were the numbers before? Perhaps like their quality of opponents being top 10 or bottom 100, Gonzaga either drills everything or misses everything. I don’t think their three-point shooting is necessarily a hinderance but in the ideal presentation of this offense we should be seeing 3-pointers as proof to defenders to guard the paint honestly.
KY: I want to say no, but I need to see more before I’m comfortable declaring the three-point shooting as being cured. Andrew Nembhard was floating around the mid-20s with his 3PT% before the last two games brought him up to 31.8% which isn’t phenomenal but is in line with his career numbers. Rasir Bolton has been a revelation from long range this season and is producing at a far better conversion rate (43.1%) than at any other time in his career (previous best was his freshman season when he shot 36.1%, followed up by 33.6% and 31.4%) so there may be some regression to the mean coming his way. On the other hand, Chet Holmgren looks to be more comfortable firing from the three-point line and may get better as the season goes along, as is Nolan Hickman. Hunter Sallis, who just made his first three of the season on Monday night against Northern Arizona could be the wild card that tips this as a positive if he can start hitting them more regularly. If Sallis improves on that front and Dominick Harris returns this season then we can probably eliminate this as an area of concern.
Peter: I think in general we shouldn’t expect the Zags to shoot 45 percent from long range, but I also don’t think we should settle for the Zags hitting 25 percent. They don’t necessarily have the best shooters, and for me that is pretty much represented by how it seems the Zags either swish them effortlessly, or they clank HARD, or just flat out airball it. Not having Dominick Harris definitely hurts in that regard, and it was nice to see both Anton Watson pop a couple and Hunter Sallis get his first three of the season. Overall, this team’s dominance will come from the interior, but obviously, the offense runs much better if Andrew Nembhard is a slightly legitimate threat.
TC: Considering where we are in the season i think a lot of assumptions were made on guys. I don’t think Chet is the struggling half-court 3-point shooter he appeared to be in the first ten or so games. Sallis is clearly a better shooter than what we’ve seen and Nembhard just needs to be a 33% shooter to keep defenders honest. I would love to see rotations adapt more to getting guys into more hot-hand roles if we’re going to keep seeing the offense rightfully settle on outside shots.
KY: I actually expect them to make 75% from three. It’s not too much to ask!
PW: I think at the end of the day, we’d all WISH they hit more threes. I think we all know deep down inside that it isn’t a strength of this squad. That is weird considering at Gonzaga, going well past Corey Kispert, we’ve been pretty accustomed as fans to have at least one guy on the squad be absolutely automatic from three.
TC: It’s actually a bit interesting to me that this heatwave comes as Julian Strawther, either 1A or 1B option outside depending on the day, is in a little bit of a funk (4 of 15 the last three games). Imagine what this team looks like when he’s on too!
KY: Yup, that’s a good call. We haven’t really seen what this team could look like when everyone is firing at the same time. Flipping over to Lisa Fortier’s squad, the women’s team dropped a tough game on the road at UC Davis on Sunday. It was their third loss of the season, with the combined margin of defeat in those three games totaling 9 points. Is there anything they can do different down the stretch to close out those types of tight games?
PW: Yeah, that loss was a bummer, especially coming just right after the first women’s bracketology was revealed putting the Zags on the “last four in” line. They definitely aren’t anymore, but I think we will still see Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament causing havoc. The Zags have three losses by a combined nine points now. If they can clean up their turnovers a bit more, between the Zags’ defensive pressure and their ability to generate second-chance points via offensive rebounds, they are an incredibly tough out. The UC Davis loss just seems like an outlier at the moment. It was the worst defensive game for the Zags by defensive rating — the Aggies scored more efficiently than Stanford did!
TC: I think maintaining their defensive intensity has to be a point of emphasis. The Aggies went on a 12-2 run in four-and-a-half minutes to start the fourth and that momentum just couldn’t be impeded.
PW: I know everyone picked BYU to win the conference, but the Zags have the height to compete with the Cougars for the auto-WCC bid this year. They’ve trotted out a lineup multiple times this season with Bree Salenbien bringing the ball up the court that features five players at 6’ or taller.
KY: It seems like they start to take themselves out of their flow and get a little frantic with their late game execution. There’s been some uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns or ill-advised shots at the other end. I hope that as the season goes along and their collective understanding and trust of one another grows, we’ll see less of that. Once that execution is cleaned up they should be on the right side of the equation in the close ones.
PW: That has usually been an issue with recent Gonzaga teams, but I think we are seeing it a bit less and less each year with the Truong twins getting more experience each day.
TC: I’ve been super impressed with Kaylynne Truong’s decision-making. She’s handling the ball super well considering the increased workload.
PW: Yeah, she has definitely stepped up since Kayleigh injured her knee.
KY: There was speculation over the last few days about a late, albeit high-profile, addition to the men’s schedule when Kentucky reportedly reached out to schedule a game with the Zags on Wednesday night in Rupp Arena. The Wildcats needed to replace their rivalry game against Louisville, who had to take a COVID pause, and ultimately scheduled Western Kentucky after Gonzaga (reportedly) turned them down. Should the Zags have taken that game?
TC: I believe in “anytime, anywhere” as much as the next guy and I think the Zags would have done just fine in the game. You don’t fear the Wildcats from outside like you would Alabama. Hell, let’s put it out there that Kentucky is the fourth or fifth best team in the SEC without a quality win better than the dreadful Georgia Bulldogs’ win over Memphis. It may have been sweet just for the banter with Big Blue Nation. One day Gonzaga is overrated and the next it would be a quality game in Rupp. I would have loved the game if only to spotlight the talent on this roster and show recruiting circles that the tides are shifting up towards Spokane.
PW: The fan in me says yes but the sensible person in me says whatever. The Zags have already played plenty of top teams this season, I’m not sure flying to Kentucky this week would’ve granted us any more insight into the team. Honestly, in this situation, the Wildcats are the one who need the game more. UK has played Duke, Notre Dame, and North Carolina this season, and that is about it. The Zags had this break built into their schedule, UK didn’t. So honestly, I’m glad we aren’t seeing Gonzaga play Wednesday night.
Of course, if you take a quick tour of BBN on Twitter, you will find out that Mark Few is “ducking” UK because we aren’t flying there at the last second during the midst of the next terrifying wave of the pandemic.
TC: Christmas over Cal, at the end of the day.
PW: If this was essentially during the same time that the UW cancellation happened, I’d say go for it. But this time, the Zags plans involved nothing but relaxation. Give the kids a slight break before the rigors of conference play begin.
KY: Christmas over Cal is a great slogan. As much as I praise and advocate the mentality to schedule the best games you can, this was a tough one to take on extremely short notice so I was a no for adding it. It would definitely have been a fun and surprising addition to the calendar, but it would have been an unfair ask of the players to reduce their time with family over the holiday break with no notice and dragging them out to Kentucky after traveling to Phoenix and back over the weekend. Like Peter said, Kentucky needed to add the Zags more than Gonzaga needed another premier non-conference game on their schedule. If Kentucky really wants to play Gonzaga, they can commit to a home and home.