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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Pacific

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NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Pacific POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we wanted Gonzaga to get a competitive game this week and thought it would take a last minute addition of Villanova or Houston to get one. Turns out Pacific—a team that lost to Gonzaga by 46 points just two weeks ago—fit the bill. Basketball is weird.

  1. Another WCC road game, another slow start for the Zags. To their credit, the Tigers did a much better job on defense than they did two weeks ago with stopping penetration and packing the middle of the floor. That resulted in a lot more iso basketball—Drew Timme was the only starter with an assist in the first half—which is not how Gonzaga wants to play.
  2. The Zags couldn’t loosen up Pacific’s defense by raining shots from the perimeter, taking more than 15 minutes to convert their first three (and only attempting 3 in the first 12 minutes) and shooting 4-17 from the arc in the game. In just about every game, Gonzaga has found a secondary hot hand from the arc to complement Kispert’s shooting. Suggs went 2-6 from three, but he and Kispert were the only Zags to convert from distance. The absence of other outside threats is what allowed Pacific to stick with #1 above for so long.
  3. It’s rare to see Corey Kispert completely taken out of the game (2 pts, 1-4 FG in the first half), but it’s no coincidence that Gonzaga’s offense struggled while he was struggling. Pacific did a good job of limiting his opportunities, throwing lots of bodies at him, and disrupting his offensive rhythm in a very frustrating night for Gonzaga’s senior leader. In previous years I don’t think we would have seen the second half surge we saw from Kispert, but his maturity and patience allowed him to stay positive and confident to come up big when the Zags needed him.
  4. Andrew Nembhard was instrumental in helping the Zags find some level of functionality on the floor. He had great energy on the defensive end, and his playmaking ability in tight spaces helped jumpstart an offense that looked. His ball screen passing from the elbows was tremendous.
  5. Gonzaga was totally outworked on the boards for the first 30 minutes of the game. Despite abysmal shooting from the field (thus creating more opportunities), Gonzaga only collected two offensive rebounds in the first half, which is not an area they have struggled in this season (32.7% offensive rebounding rate going into the game). Only getting one shot per possession in a slow pace game is how a team that averages 94 points per game only scores 31 points in the half.
  6. While slow starts have, unfortunately, become commonplace over the last few weeks, Gonzaga typically does a good of buckling in and emerging from halftime dialed in and ready to wreak havoc. That took a little longer to happen in this contest. Timme did his best to provide some juice— and was a monster in the second half—but the energy was still flat until about 10 minutes left in the game, off-ball offensive movement was stagnant, and the defense suffered uncharacteristic breakdowns on too many occasions.
  7. The Tigers played with much better effort than they did in the first matchup. They were much more physical, did a good job in defending Gonzaga’s transition offense, and were successful in mucking up the flow of the game. That has been their blueprint against Gonzaga for years and they executed it to perfection in this game. In my opinion, it was the best defensive effort against Gonzaga all season. Tip your hat to them.
  8. Jonathan Salazar. Come on man, don’t play like that. Kispert was very fortunate to walk away from that harsh foul without a serious injury.
  9. At least we got both Pacific games out of the way by February 4? Silver linings, folks.
  10. Another silver lining—Gonzaga has played in pretty much every type of basketball game you can play, and won all of them. If the goal for the regular season is to be as prepared as possible for the NCAA Tournament and all the variance it presents, then you have to feel good about this team’s ability to win regardless of style.