There have not been many occasions over the last few seasons where Gonzaga was in line to pick up an upset win. Of course, that tends to be the case when you start the season as the No. 1 team as has been the case in the last three campaigns. That made for an interesting scenario where the Zags were the
road semi-neutral underdogs playing a team ranked 11 spots ahead of them in the AP poll. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Gonzaga might have been in line for another L. After all, the first six weeks of the season have been up and down, to say the least, and this was a rematch against a team that beat a better Gonzaga squad in Seattle last season and has since added some exceptional talent to their ranks. Seeing the Zags come together to produce THAT performance with EVERYONE in the lineup producing was extremely satisfying:
- Don’t be fooled by the scoreline. Gonzaga’s defense came to play in this game. The Zags forced 14 turnovers in the first half (and 21 total) which carried them when the offense hit a bit of a lull. Give Alabama a lot of credit. The Tide, and especially Brandon Miller, ran some excellent offense and made a bunch of tough shots. Over the last 35 minutes, the Zags made them work for it, and that’s what you want to see.
- Gonzaga’s offense showed the growth and discipline we have been hoping would come. Once again, everyone took care of the ball. Just a few weeks ago, the Zags were reeling off 20+ turnover games like nobody’s business, so this has been quite the turnaround over the last two weeks. In addition to ball security we saw a lot of patience, without hesitation, which is an important distinction and which allowed the Zags to hit the century mark against a strong defensive opponent that just beat Houston at its own game the week prior. There were plenty of opportunities for Gonzaga’s offense to wilt in this game, but as a collective, the group never blinked.
- Alabama’s rebounding prowess was on full display in the opening minutes of the game (9-2 advantage just 4:34 into the game). That wasn’t a surprise. What was disappointing, however, was that Gonzaga didn’t seem ready to battle right at the tip. To Gonzaga’s credit, they snapped out of it and matched Alabama’s rebounding the rest of the way to make sure that 7 rebound deficit didn’t get any bigger. That was a major key to victory.
- What else is there to say about Anton Watson? The senior forward was tremendous once again. True to form, Watson did a little bit of everything, and all of it at the highest level. He played the most minutes of any Zag and was vital in executing the offensive and defensive game plans.
- Julian Strawther’s short floater was money today. It was great to see him play with a more aggressive mindset to get the rim rather than settle for jumpers on the perimeter. The short floaters were clearly a point of emphasis in the game plan, and Strawther was the best of the bunch in that department.
- Drew Timme had to work extremely hard due to Alabama’s frontcourt length. He made an adjustment midway through the first half to get into his move much sooner before the help could come and swallow him up, and that really helped him overcome the waves of guys that the Tide sent at him.
- Alabama’s Jaden Bradley got off to a great start until Hunter Sallis came in off the bench and locked him down. That work from Sallis kept Gonzaga in the game just when it looked like the Tide were going to run away with the game. You can see how much pride Sallis takes in taking on the toughest defensive assignment and winning his matchup.
- Ben Gregg’s stock might be the only stock in the country that is skyrocketing upwards. He only played 4 minutes due to the flow that the starters found in the second half, but his minutes came at a tricky time for Gonzaga in the first and he didn’t let his teammates down. He provided great energy on the defensive end and made a 3 midway through the first that gave Gonzaga a 4-point lead—just a little bit of daylight—which they held on to the rest of the way.
- Brandon Miller is so good. What a weapon to have. He’s very much in the conversation to be the second pick in the NBA Draft next summer behind Victor Wembanyama. There’s no reason for Alabama to not make a Final Four run this season considering the talent on that roster led by Miller.
- Gonzaga needed its backcourt to step up in a big way in order to have a chance at winning this game. That’s what they got, which allowed us all to see what this team is capable of when the backcourt plays to its potential. Malachi Smith had his best defensive outing and paired it with a strong all-around showing in the second half. The offense hummed along even while Nolan Hickman was saddled on the bench with foul trouble for the last 10 minutes of the first half, and everyone made big buckets in the second to close out the Tide. Credit to these guys for putting in the work over the last few weeks and putting it all together in a difficult game this weekend.