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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Santa Clara

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NCAA Basketball: Santa Clara at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

In a rare occurrence, the Gonzaga Bulldogs got their first look at a conference opponent in the last week of regular season play. Santa Clara made an impression, putting together an excellent performance to push the Zags for 40 minutes in one of the tougher games it has had to play this season. That’s a credit to the Broncos.

  1. Santa Clara opened the game looking like the undefeated team that was ranked No. 1 in the country. The Broncos did an excellent job communicating on defense to attack and disrupt Gonzaga’s screen game which helped them stymie penetration. That resulted in a slew of uncharacteristically poor offensive possessions for the Zags that featured turnovers, stagnant off ball movement, and very few uncontested shot attempts.
  2. On the flip side, Gonzaga’s defensive organization throughout the game was fairly dodgy. There were a handful of mixups on switches and rotations that enabled the Broncos to get uncontested buckets and convert 9 of their first 12 field goal attempts. They couldn’t maintain that percentage over the whole game, but Gonzaga didn’t make life too difficult for them either. It was not the defensive execution that we have seen out of Gonzaga over the last four weeks.
  3. Gonzaga is so good at getting the ball up the floor at light speed in transition opportunities. There’s a lot that needs to happen to be as deadly in transition as they are. They make it look much easier than it is.
  4. You have to admire Ben Gregg’s confidence. The young man got his first taste of non-garbage time minutes and didn’t look totally out of place. He would have been forgiven for looking a little timid, but took his shots when they were there and didn’t back down from the physicality of the game. He’s definitely made strides over the two months that he’s been with the team.
  5. While Gregg did his part, he was pressed into duty thanks to foul trouble in the front court that saw Drew Timme and Anton Watson rooted to the bench in the closing minutes of the first half. I’m guessing Ballo is still working his way back into shape after his injury since he wasn’t on the floor for very long before Gregg came in. This is the one scenario, outside of a major injury, that could cause Gonzaga issues in the NCAA Tournament.
  6. Corey Kispert still managed to score 25 points while drawing suboptimal defensive matchups for him against the bigger duo of Josip Vrankic and Guglielmo Caruso. Santa Clara went into the post early and often which made for a long afternoon for Kispert. They combined for 33 points, but credit to him for making them work for it. Santa Clara’s success with this though highlighted a vulnerability for the Zags if they continue to prefer the smaller lineup of Nembhard in place of Watson and find themselves playing a team in the tournament with multiple quality post options.
  7. I liked that Gonzaga went right to Timme deep in the post to open the second half. It was important to get the sophomore center going after he played for only 8 minutes in the first half and set him up for a 14 point second half. His offense does so much to help everyone else on the team thanks to the stress he places on opposing defenses.
  8. Timme picked up his third foul with just under 15 minutes left in the game on a dubious blocking foul. As he came to the sideline Few used it as a teaching moment to calmly talk him through the situation. The coaching and player development machine never turns off. There’s a reason why guys get better at Gonzaga.
  9. Jalen Suggs was awarded a very harsh flagrant foul late in the game on a play where he caught an out of control Jalen Williams with an inadvertent elbow while trying to protect himself in a vulnerable midair position. That the refs saw fit to bail out Williams, who had his back turned to Suggs and was in horrible position to try and contest his layup, was complete nonsense.
  10. Give the Broncos a lot of credit for how well they played in this game. They were up to the task on both ends of the floor, and stayed focused to keep the Zags at arm’s length every time they threatened to string together a big run to put the game away. Santa Clara’s season has been disrupted by COVID more than most, but you couldn’t tell by how they played in this game.