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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s Win Over North Alabama

11-2

NCAA Basketball: North Alabama at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t ever remember at 2:00 p.m. start on a weekday game at the Kennel, but here it was. 14 Zags played and 11 scored.

1. COVID!!! As I’m writing this, at least 80 NCAA basketball teams are cancelling or postponing games due to COVID protocols including GU’s scheduled conference opener at San Diego. The University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts a tenfold increase in case counts over the next 30 days. The Gonzaga and Eastern Washington ladies have canceled or postponed their next two games and even the optimistic trio of Heister, Dickau and Fox ended today’s telecast warning game status is day-to-day. Although I haven’t seen it mentioned, even if games do continue, I foresee a possible return to empty arenas.

2. I may not have the basketball mind of Steven Karr, but I do wonder about UNA’s approach to the game. Their offense often consisted of taking a quick three, open or not, or an under 6-foot guard driving to the basket. The defensive strategy relied upon the commission of a quick foul, especially when the ball entered the post. Incredibly, UNA committed 25 fouls resulting in 23 Gonzaga free throws while the Zags only committed 9 personal fouls. At least it was exciting up and down the floor action.

3. I was really impressed with Chet Holmgren’s play in the post tonight. Despite having an off night offensively (3 for 7, 0-2 from deep) his three makes were sweet moves in the low block. The first was a right-handed baby hook, the second a spin left and dunk and the third a left-handed hook going across the lane. On Sunday’s Mark Few show, Anton Watson talked about the battles the bigs have during practice and how it’s improved all their games. He may never be a back-to-the-basket guy, but his post play has steadily improved, opening up the floor and taking some heat off Timme

4. Nolan Hickman epitomizes composure. When I watch him play, I’m reminded of the John Wooden adage of “be quick but don’t hurry”. Tonight, he made a great mid-range jumper and was 3 for 4 from deep, had no turnovers and only committed one foul. In fact, he leads the team with a 3:1 assist to turnover ratio. Stay under the radar Nolan, I want to see you in a Gonzaga uniform next year.

5. How about that 50-foot bounce pass from Timme to Nembhard, not quite as good as Suggs, but damn close. Drew is a good passer and a decent ball handler but seems to have been pressing too hard the past few games resulting in unnecessary turnovers, like the four tonight (one was a bad call by refs). In the contest against Northern Arizona when the team shot 46% from deep, Drew didn’t have any turnovers.

6. Andrew Nembhard had two incredible defensive plays tonight. The first when he jumped to full extension to block a Brim lay-up and the second was a strip of Cisse under the basket to prevent a dunk. Gonzaga is in the bottom half of the D-1 in steals, but doesn’t it seem like Watson and Sallis each have 2 or 3 strips per game?

7. I was encouraged to hear Heister and Dickau discussing how Few and staff are having Hunter Sallis study films of Joel Ayayi. They said they are hoping he learns to run the baseline and cut to the basket like Joel did. Hunter is more athletic than Joel, probably a better defender and has similar rebounding skills. If he can develop a similar skillset as Ayayi, his athleticism will make it easier for him to play at the next level.

8. Rasir Bolton looked great tonight and he’s had a Ryan Woolridge like improvement in his three-point shooting at Gonzaga. Bolton was 5 for 6 from the field tonight with his only miss being on one of his three attempts from deep. Bolton is currently shooting just over 44% from three while his previous best was 36% when he was a freshman at Penn State. Woolridge had very similar figure with his best being 36% as a freshman at North Texas and 43% at Gonzaga. Why? The easy answer would be they get more open looks now that they aren’t their team’s first or second scoring options. I’m just not sure it’s that simple.

9. Ben Gregg didn’t do much tonight, but isn’t it fun to see him and Perry on the flow together? When I seen Greg play, especially when he hits a three, I think he has the potential to be a more athletic Kyle Wiltjer. He just turned 19 in October, and I can see him adding 5 pounds of muscle to his already impressive frame. Kaden Perry is only 18 and will be even more physically imposing after a full off-season in the weight room. By the way, Kaden Perry’s dunk tonight were his first points since the Central Michigan game six weeks ago.

10. For old rock and rollers like me, I was intrigued to find the campus of North Alabama is less than three miles from the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. For those under 50, Muscle Shoals is where some of the best music of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was recorded. Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and Lynyrd Skynyrd were just some of the great names who recorded there. They had a great house band of back-up musicians known as the Swampers as verified by Skynyrd’s Sweet Home in Alabama lyric “now Muscle Shoals they have the Swampers and they been known to pick a song or two.”