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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Portland State


NCAA Basketball: Phil Knight Legacy-Portland State at Gonzaga Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

It’s late and I’m getting on an early flight to Portland in the morning so we’re going right into it:

  1. We saw a much better transition game from Gonzaga in this game. The Zags haven’t been themselves in transition through the early parts of the season, but they had a nice break early in this game that ended with an Anton Watson dunk. To set up Watson’s dunk, the outlet pass was made immediately and Hickman didn’t hesitate getting vertical and passing ahead to Watson. Timme finished off the sequence with a subtle but quality seal on his man to open up the lane for Watson.
  2. On the flip side, however, Gonzaga’s transition defense was lacking. It’s a little lower on the priority list of things that Gonzaga needs to fix at the moment but it is something they need to address. We should see improvement with it as the team continues to grow and learn how to play with one another.
  3. Despite Portland State’s KenPom ranking, their style of play did provide Gonzaga with a good opportunity to work on some specific weaknesses—namely handling aggressive full-court pressure. The Vikings were committed to applying pressure regardless of the situation and forced Gonzaga to speed up while figuring out how to take care of the ball and break down their defense on the fly.
  4. Finally, the Malachi Smith breakout game we were waiting for. Gonzaga’s offense is far more dangerous when he’s on (to the surprise of no one), and his shooting ability provides the needed floor balance to make everyone’s job easier.
  5. Jay Bilas mentioned it on the broadcast, but it bears repeating here—Hunter Sallis put in some serious work over the summer to tighten up his jumpshot and it shows. As a byproduct of that work, he’s shooting the ball with a lot more confidence this year and that confidence is bleeding over into all other aspects of his game. He was excellent in this contest and hopefully he uses it as a building block to stack more exceptional performances on top of it.
  6. Rasir Bolton finished a couple of tough acrobatic layups through contact in the first half. You can only finish those types of plays with great upper body strength and control to maintain balance and finish under control.
  7. By the numbers and the eye test Timme’s free throw shooting has gotten worse year-to-year over the last three seasons. It’s a troubling trend that he needs to get moving in the other direction if he wants to fulfill his goals for the season. He’s leaving too many points on the table and continuing to miss those freebies at his current frequency is going to cost Gonzaga at some point this season.
  8. Mark Few fielded a small ball lineup for a fairly prolonged stretch in the first half with Watson at the 5 accompanied by four guards in Hickman, Sallis, Bolton, and Smith. They were able to get away with it due to Portland State’s lack of size, but it also gave the Zags a very different look and helped them space the floor and establish an insurmountable first half lead. We also saw the same four guard lineup alongside Timme and it might be something that Few tries out again moving forward which I would be supportive of.
  9. Each of Julian Strawther’s turnovers in this game were highly avoidable. The turnovers he committed were all of the unforced type stemming from trying to do too much. Those are the easy ones to get rid of to clean up the turnover issues.
  10. Hats off to Portland State head coach Jace Coburn on the work he’s doing with his team. It was obvious that the Vikings are a well-coached and well-drilled squad. The Vikings didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the Zags in a trackmeet but they acquitted themselves well.