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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to LMU


NCAA Basketball: Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know what to make of this Gonzaga team. They’ve taken some major steps back in conference play at both ends of the floor. which is odd to see 20 games into the season. There have certainly been some flashes of excellence, but this team is still struggling to capture the right formula to play at a consistently high level. At this point in the campaign, it’s fair to wonder what it will take to figure things out. You would hope that they could take away some key learnings over their trio of nailbiters from the last three weeks while still banking W’s, but maybe this is just how things are going to go for the Bulldogs this season.

  1. When Drew Timme and Julian Strawther both struggle, things are generally going to look pretty grim for Gonzaga. And so it was in this game. Very few, if any, teams in the country are able to weather bad games from their top two scorers. Strawther never established a rhythm, finishing the night 1-8 from the field (1-5 3PT) and 3-6 from the free throw line. Timme struggled against LMU’s interior defense and Rick Assanza’s extreme length, in particular, and his free throw shooting finally bit the Zags as he split too many down the stretch. During the non-conference portion of the season, Mark Few commented that Timme essentially needed to play like the National Player of the Year every night for the Zags to win. Timme didn’t reach that level in this game, and Gonzaga took the L.
  2. I hope Keli Leaupepe plays at LMU forever. I think he’s a fairly underrated player so it was a treat to watch him score LMU’s first five points. His magnificent mullet (and likely his whole vibe) likely distracts from the fact that he does a lot of things well.
  3. Early in the first half, Nolan Hickman made an excellent read to intercept an LMU pass late in the shot clock and then made an equally impressive play on the other end to finish a layup through contact. That was a really nice two way play from Hickman who stepped up in the scoring department when Gonzaga was struggling to find its rhythm in the first half and made a big 3 late in the game. The key for Hickman, as it has been all season, is toggling between being aggressive with his own offense when the offense stalls and understanding how to get everyone else going.
  4. As Gonzaga’s offensive struggles stretched into the middle of the second half, I would have liked to see Few dip into the bench sooner and get Ben Gregg and Hunter Sallis or Malachi Smith more action to give Gonzaga a different look for the Lions to deal with along with more energy. Sallis, in particular, is the one I wanted to see on the floor to close out the game and I’m perplexed why he didn’t get the chance, particularly with Cam Shelton clearly being asked to carry the Lions home.
  5. Mark Few was on Drew Timme’s podcast this week and lamented the poor defensive communication from his team. Despite their coach’s public lamentations, it seemed to still be an issue that reared its head in this one as there were a few breakdowns in Gonzaga’s own ball screen defense which was only exacerbated by LMU’s ability to credibly spread the floor.
  6. LMU’s halfcourt press was very effective and forced the Zags to settle for a lot of low percentage shots. Their level of sustained, quality pressure requires a lot of energy. More impressively, perhaps, is that the Zags prepared for it (according to Dan Dickau’s comments on the broadcast) and yet still struggled to break LMU down effectively.
  7. LMU’s play at the end of the first half that earned them a 3-point bucket was so well designed. Kudos to Stan Johnson for the design and to Leaupepe, Rick Assanza, and Justin Ahrens for the quality execution.
  8. When Gonzaga’s halfcourt offense is struggling, the defense really needs to turn up the pressure at the other end to manufacture more transition offense. They need to find ways to make things easier at the offensive end when the bread and butter stuff isn’t working.
  9. If Cam Shelton is torching you for 27 points, maybe consider denying him the ball in the closing minutes of the game? The Zags didn’t even bother to make him fight for his catches and take away his space until the last two minutes of the game. When they finally did, things went well and the Zags took the lead. Of course, on the possession that led to Shelton’s game winning, Timme had gotten switched onto him and the Zags couldn’t manage to switch back.
  10. Say what you want about this Gonzaga, but they do fight. Even when the chips are down, they don’t lose their composure. That’s probably the only thing the Zags did well in this game though.