Another chapter of Gonzaga lore was written tonight. Years from now, fans will speak in amazement about the “Holmgren-game” in San Diego.
1. For the past three weeks, Holmgren’s emergence as the dominant player on this team has been firmly established. Maybe it’s playing against the WCC after being tested by some of the best teams in the country. Maybe he’s adjusted to the speed of the game. Maybe he gained confidence or was motivated by the coaching staff. Whatever happened, the kid who scored two points with five rebounds against Texas has been replaced by a young man who’s become one of the most remarkable college players this old man has ever seen.
2. While Holmgren has been incredible, Drew Timme has lost some of his Mojo over the past three games. Since scoring 30, 32 and 23 against BYU, Santa Clara and USF, he’s been 15 for 34 from the field (44%) in the last three games. He’s looked uncertain on his moves and is leaving a lot of shots short. Tonight, San Diego center Terrell Brown essentially played him one-on-one and his 5 for 14 from the field was his worst shooting performance of the season. Thankfully, he’s played his best in the biggest of games this year and with the Gonzaga’s four toughest WCC contests upcoming, hopefully the Timme magic returns.
3. I watched UCLA at Arizona for an hour before the Gonzaga game and thought how nice it would be to have Oumar Ballo back in a Zag uniform. I then watched Anton Watson play and realized Ballo would again be the forth GU big. Basketball statistician Evan Miyakawa had Anton ranked as high as the fifth most impactful player in college basketball and there is even talk of the NBA in his future. Tonight, his 11 points (5 for 7), 3 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal are indicative of the way his been filling the stat sheet for the past eleven games. Not surprisingly, according to Sports Reference’s Defensive Ratings, he’s the second-best defender on the team behind only Holmgren.
4. Credit to San Diego tonight for attempting to go toe-to-toe with Gonzaga instead of going into a weave for 22+ seconds before shooting. Like Portland’s Shantay Legans, their coach Sam Scholl has them showing some pride in their program and their team, a different feel from the past several seasons. Their team is laden with seniors so it will be interesting see how Tacoma’s own Scholl does with them next season.
5. Time to give some love to Mark Few and his staff. Holmgren, Sallis and Hickman’s development throughout the season has been astonishing. Yes, they were three of the most talented and sought-after prospects entering the season, but all of their performances have been on a steady upswing throughout the season. Holmgren may be the nation’s best player, Hickman may be in the NBA next year and Sallis is capable of changing the course of a game through his defense, rebounding or scoring.
6. Julian Strawther had 8 rebounds tonight and has surpassed Drew Timme as the second leading rebounder on the team. Aren’t his finishes at the basket a thing of beauty?
7. Twice tonight I saw Andrew Nembhard giving Chet Holmgren instructions on where to move to set the screen to initiate the offense. His leadership of the team since they entered league play has been nearly flawless. In the last six games, Nembhard has averaged 15.5 points per contest, 6.67 assists and an incredible 5.71 assists to turnover ratio.
8. It’s happened twice now that I can remember, but what in the world is ESPN thinking when the interrupt a game in the first half, for several minutes, to talk about the NBA draft. I could possibly tolerate the draft talk if I didn’t see Mike Schmitz (?) on half the screen with the game telecast further reduced by another 25% because of the framing. I was so torqued; I didn’t listen to anything he had to say.
9. Congratulations to Matthew “Matty Tacos” Lang for receiving a scholarship for his final semester at Gonzaga. It was announced that after the LMU game, Coach Few notified Lang and his family he’d been given the scholarship. Asked which person in the Lang family was happiest about the scholarship, Lang answered “probably my dad.”
10. I’ve always wondered if Gonzaga’s basketball program was based in San Diego or Malibu, would it have been easier to recruit top players and possibly been even more successful. The contrasting position is Spokane’s harsh winters and relative lack of distractions improves team unity and presents a sort of basketball boot camp scenario keeping the team focused and efficacious. What do you think?