How’s everyone feeling this morning? That was an epic game, and one that makes a great addition to Gonzaga’s catalog of incredible tournament basketball games. Considering the struggles that Gonzaga had for the first 20 minutes of the game, players, coaches, and fans should all be feeling very good about what we saw during the final 20 minutes to pull out that win. The key moving forward will be to access that level of play from the opening tip. On to the observations:
- “They [Gonzaga] went to the championship level.” - Penny Hardaway. There have been doubts in some doubts as to whether this group of Zags had that extra gear to access when they needed it. The losses against Duke, Alabama, and Saint Mary’s were used as evidence that Gonzaga didn’t have “it.” In those games, Gonzaga lost the physical battle and failed to claw back from halftime deficits. Well, fourth time is the charm. When their backs were against the wall, Gonzaga dug “very, very deep” according to Mark Few and showed that they have that championship level to put away a very good team.
- Chet came out of the blocks ready for his very hyped battle with Jalen Duren. He challenged Duren on everything from the outset of the game, and set the tone with his fighting attitude on the blocks. His statistical line wasn’t as eye-popping as the first round, but Chet has answered questions that critics have had about him in both tournament games so far. Now, if he can get things going from the three-point line...
- Both teams play uptempo basketball, which should have played into Gonzaga’s hands as the team that generally plays under better control in track meets. In the first half, however, it was Gonzaga that got taken out of its offensive flow by the frenetic pace of the game. The Zags got some transition buckets, to be sure, but the half court sets were not executed cleanly when the ball got pulled out of transition, and the Zags appeared to be mentally sped up by the Tigers.
- Memphis was as advertised on the boards. They crashed the offensive glass hard picking up 6 offensive rebounds in the first 8 minutes of the game, while also limiting Gonzaga to just two offensive boards despite a healthy number of opportunities with the Zags failing to convert at their usual efficient rate. The Tigers had complete control of the glass, with the Zags seemingly forgetting how to box out and regularly losing track of guys crashing the glass.
- Gonzaga struggled immensely at both ends of the floor after Chet Holmgren hit the bench with his second foul. At that point in the game, the Zags were only down by 1, and he was a key component of everything they were doing well. Without him, Timme and Watson had no daylight to operate inside the paint, and the Zags struggled to even get the ball inside with the Tigers applying heavy defensive pressure and using their length to challenge at the catch point on any pass that went inside. At the other end, Memphis picked up a lot of offensive boards and had a lot of looks at the rim without Chet’s rim protection as a deterrent.
- The Zags continue to give points away at the free throw line. A fatal flaw in the month of March. The missed free throws at the front end of a 1-and-1 were especially painful, or maybe it was a kindness since it meant fewer opportunities to miss another free throw. Gonzaga dodged a bullet in the opening round despite going 16-30 from the charity stripe, but you can’t maintain that poor of a conversion rate without it catching up to you. If the Zags continue to struggle from the free throw line, they won’t be cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
- Give Memphis credit. The were a 9-seed because of how poorly they played during the first 2-3 months of the season, when they simply had no chemistry and no idea how to play with one another. The Tigers figured things out and were one of the hottest teams in the country on a 13-2 run heading into the tournament. The talent that was salivating and propelled them in to the preseason top 12 was on full display, and the team that Gonzaga played was worthy of a 2 or 3-seed. It’s also remarkable that the Zags never really have chemistry and integration issues like Memphis experienced through the first half of the season. That’s a testament to the coaching staff, and even moreso the players for all immediately buying in and sacrificing aspects of their games for the greater good of the team.
- Rasir Bolton doesn’t get enough credit for the steadiness he provides because it’s easy to get caught up in Timme, Nembhard, and Holmgren. But Gonzaga doesn’t win this game without Bolton, who scored 17 points on a very efficient 6-9 shooting performance from the field. He came up huge throughout the night, making timely 3s and getting to the rim late in the game to help put Memphis away. He was never fazed by the moment.
- Drew Timme’s second half performance will go down in Gonzaga lore. I don’t even know what to say about it. I don’t think there are any words that can do it justice. Instead, I’m just going to watch it back on the recording.
- Seven straight Sweet 16s is a preposterous achievement. You only need to look at the chaos of this tournament to be reminded of just how difficult it is to make it to the second weekend of games. For seven consecutive tournaments, Gonzaga has avoided that disappointment and taken care of business against a very diverse array of opponents. Luck has been on their side in moments (hello Northwestern goaltend in 2017), for sure, but the Zags have showed up ready to play and showcased their quality. Never take this era for granted.