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10 Observations: Santa Clara vs. Gonzaga

23 - 2 (With a shout-out to Olynyk, Tillie and Suggs)

Santa Clara v Gonzaga Photo by Robert Johnson/Getty Images

Senior Night has the same sort of scary feeling as a trip to USF’s War Memorial Gym. Despite the last loss being five years ago, Gonzaga’s last home game of the season always seems to cause a bit of unease for the fans.

1. Remember when Senior Night was definitively the last game of the college careers of those who were playing their fourth year of college basketball. Of tonight’s four seniors (Bolton, Nembhard, Graves and Lang), all could come back and two have stated they will play another year of college basketball, just maybe not at Gonzaga. Ironically, the player most certain to have played their last game at the Kennel is a freshman.

2. Though he had a tough night offensively and spent the game in foul trouble, I saw two things from Anton Watson I loved tonight. The first was a single possession where through guile, hustle and positioning he had three offensive rebounds. The second was two defensive stands against all-WCC first-teamer Josip Vrankic. Vrankic tried to back Watson down and Anton did not give an inch. The first stand resulted in a Santa Clara turnover and the second with Watson picking up a cheap and questionable foul as the shot clock was running out.

3. Chet Holmgren had another SportsCenter highlight tonight. A rare Nembhard turnover resulted in Vrankic leading a fast break and hitting Carlos Stewart with a pass who was about to shoot a layup. Out of nowhere, Holmgren appeared and cleanly swiped the ball away just before it hit the backboard. 90 seconds later he ran the length of the court in about five seconds during a fast break ending in him getting the ball from Nembhard for an easy dunk. Damn, I’m going to miss this guy.

4. How great has Andrew Nembhard been playing as of late when three turnovers against eight assists is sub-par. Andrew’s 5 for 9 from beyond the arc were key in keeping the Broncos at arm’s length and his step back three, when he sinks it, is such a beautiful shot.

5. Drew Timme is tough as nails. Bronco’s coach Herb Sendek was going to make sure Timme, who torched him for 32 points last game, was not going to beat him. When Timme got the ball in the post, Santa Clara dropped into a pseudo 2-3 zone to make it as tough as possible for him to score. Though his ability to operate in the post was impaired, Timme made up for it by back-to-back, foul-drawing, offensive rebound put-backs early in the second half. The times he did score with a post move, he had to fight through two or three defenders. If you have the game recorded, look at his basket at the 8:10 mark in the second half with the score 59 – 53 then his hook shot 90 seconds later. Tough and clutch.

6. Speaking of which, Timme hasn’t got his propers for Gonzaga’s three-point shooting resurgence. Last season teams weren’t going to let Kispert beat them, so their defense was always spread out to Timme’s advantage. This year Timme is almost always double or triple teamed leaving an open shooter. I don’t think it’s coincidental that since his 30- and 32-point games on 27 for 32 shooting it’s been tougher for him to score but the team’s overall three-point shooting percentage increased by 5% (this week excluded).

7. Heister and Fox had a great line tonight when they said has there ever been a Zag transfer as plug-and-play ready as Rasir Bolton? Bolton has been the perfect complement to Nembhard and appears to be a great guy and a great teammate. Heister told a story tonight about his working with the homeless in Spokane after a social worker visited one of his classes. By the way, if you want to see an incredible drive and lay-up, go to the 2nd half with 12 minutes left to play if you have the game recorded. Bolton is incredible.

8. As I mentioned in the game summary, the Broncos big three of Vrankic, Williams and Justice were 8 for 29 tonight and Chet Holmgren is the most responsible for their poor performance. In two second half possessions, Vrankic backed Chet to within three feet of the goal tried to shoot over him. He was blocked both times. Williams and Justice both had interior shots altered just by Chet’s presence. I’ll be curious to see how the more confident, better adjusted Holmgren does in the NCAA tournament against centers like Alabama’s Bediako and Duke’s Williams.

9. I may be an unapologetic homer and am not trying to slight Houston Mallette or Jalen Williams but given the choice between either of them or Julian Strawther I would take Strawther without hesitation.

10. Last night was the first of five straight games where a Gonzaga loss almost certainly punches the winning team’s ticket for an NCAA Tournament bid. This will be especially true on Thursday in the Quad 1 contest at USF. St. Mary’s have done enough for an at-large bid and beating Gonzaga could give them a top four seed. It should be the same situation in the WCC tournament with the likelihood of Gonzaga playing two of these three teams; St. Mary’s, USF or Santa Clara. It’s going to be an exciting two weeks!