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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Kentucky


NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

That was exactly the type of bounce back effort we needed to see from Gonzaga after an ugly night in Austin earlier in the week. Massive credit to the 12,000+ fans that packed the Spokane Arena and created a fantastic college basketball environment. I would be remiss not to give credit to John Calipari and Kentucky for committing to a 6-year series (aka the Wiltjer Cup) and agreeing to come to Spokane in the first place. As Gonzaga was reminded this week, it’s not easy to play on the road.

  1. Gonzaga won this game on the glass (it certainly didn’t win it by taking care of the ball). Great gang rebounding by Gonzaga in the first half limited Kentucky to just five offensive rebounds in the half, and none come until the Zags had already separated themselves. Gonzaga had to make a conscious commitment to teaming up on the glass to combat Oscar Tshiebwe’s rebounding dominance, at the expense of their transition game, but it was worthwhile and helped the Zags take control of the game early.
  2. Drew Timme gets all the plaudits, and rightfully so, but I will continue to bang the drum for Anton Watson because he deserves to get his due. He doesn’t score at the levels of Drew Timme, but he has proven to be just as important to Gonzaga’s success. Watson was a monster in this game, particularly on the defensive end. He was able to guard Tshiebwe straight up on numerous possessions, and used his quick hands and high basketball IQ to be disruptive all over the floor. Watson is so good.
  3. Gonzaga needs performances like this from Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton if it wants to beat the top teams in the country. Timme can carry a lot of the load, but there needs to be consistently reliable second and third scorers to keep opposing defenses honest.
  4. Kentucky had success applying heavy pressure on Gonzaga’s guards. Nolan Hickman played through an ankle injury sustained at Texas on Wednesday, so it’s understandable that he struggled to beat the pressure and win off the dribble. I admire his willingness to play, but his injury highlighted how challenging it can be for the offense (the next observation) when the ball-handlers aren’t winning off the dribble.
  5. 18 turnovers in this one for the Zags, though it didn’t bury them like it did against Texas. Nevertheless, not a great bounce back performance in that department coming on the heels of a 20-turnover game against Texas and another 18-turnover game against Michigan State. 56 turnovers in three games is completely unacceptable, and it’s a minor miracle that the Zags won two of those games in light of the inability to take care of the ball.
  6. Gonzaga’s offense looks so dysfunctional when Efton Reid and Timme are on the floor together. They haven’t established a good understanding with one another yet, and Reid looks so uncomfortable playing away from the basket that Timme ends up having to be the one that comes off the block to play high more often than not. That is generally not a good outcome for the Zags. Reid’s skillset is, at the moment, simply not adequate for what Gonzaga’s offense demands.
  7. Perhaps related to #6, Ben Gregg jumped ahead of Reid in the closing minutes of the first half when Timme needed a break. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gregg play ahead of Reid until the LSU transfer earns the right to be the first big off the bench.
  8. Kentucky’s big men were not prepared to run with Timme in transition and he made them pay for it a couple of times. Great effort by #2. As a whole, Gonzaga’s pace seemed to catch Kentucky off guard, which is surprising considering that has been Gonzaga’s M.O. for years now.
  9. As he did in the second half of the Michigan State game, Hunter Sallis used his defense to be a gamebreaker. Sallis played a big role in halting Kentucky’s second-half run and helped put the game away.
  10. The Zags didn’t do anything special in the first half. They simply played with more effort and outworked the Wildcats in every facet of the game. Compare that to the first 6-7 minutes of the second half when the Zags looked just as listless as Kentucky in the first. Effort made all the difference.