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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Northern Illinois

8-3

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s finals week at Gonzaga, and you could tell based on this game. The players seemed distracted or uninterested, maybe both, and The Kennel was (understandably) not at full throat with a downsized student section to boot. But, the Zags took care of business, and we saw continued growth from some key reserves:

  1. There must be something about Huskies because for the second game in a row the Zags got off to a very slow start, highlighted by a scoring drought of 4 minutes and 13 seconds that included five missed three-point attempts during the opening minutes of the game. Considering the Huskies aren’t exactly a defensive (or offensive) juggernaut, there’s really no excuse for such a prolonged drought or the woeful offensive numbers in the first half.
  2. The defensive effort from Gonzaga’s starters left a lot to be desired. After stacking a couple of strong defensive outings, the intensity was very much lacking as they seemed to take for granted that their opponent wasn’t good enough to win the game. It was an uninspiring night on that end of the floor, which was disappointing. Defense needs to be Gonzaga’s calling card, and these are the games in which they need to be solidifying that identity.
  3. With the starters struggling to get out of the starting blocks, this was a good opportunity for the bench to distinguish themselves and play extended minutes. Ben Gregg, Hunter Sallis, Malachi Smith, and Efton Reid did just that as they injected some energy into the game in both halves. That’s exactly what you need and expect from your reserves, and they provided it on a night when it was sorely needed.
  4. Malachi Smith had a really nice second half to blow the game wide open for Gonzaga. He’s shooting 46% from the three-point line this season (13-28), and greater consistency from him as he settles into his role on this squad will really help Gonzaga achieve a higher baseline of performance level on a game-to-game basis.
  5. Hunter Sallis didn’t start, but he got starter minutes in this game as he played a career high 30 minutes. With how his game was trending, it was only a matter of time.
  6. Another rough night from Rasir Bolton. I really don’t understand what’s happened with him. Cold shooting spells happen to everyone but it’s up to the player to manufacture ways to break the slump. Considering the quickness he has at his disposal, I would have liked to see him attack the rim more often and play with aggressiveness.
  7. If Drew Timme got to play the NIU Huskies every night he would break Frank Burgess’s career-scoring record by Christmas.
  8. This game epitomized how problematic it is for Gonzaga that a consistent #2 (or #3) scorer has not emerged this season to help Timme shoulder the load. Julian Strawther and Bolton need to be those guys. When they struggle, Gonzaga doesn’t have enough offense elsewhere to separate (or keep up, see Purdue & Texas) and the team treads water for prolonged periods until a hot second hand emerges. It’s a suboptimal way to play each game.
  9. Ben Gregg found his confidence in the second half against Purdue, and has been impacting the game every time he’s been on the floor since. What a rapid and phenomenal evolution from him.
  10. The Zags have no excuse to start flat-footed in Saturday’s big game against Alabama since they expended minimal energy against the Huskies.