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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Santa Clara


NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Santa Clara Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

For the second game in a row, the Gonzaga Bulldogs got pushed to the brink by a WCC opponent. It wasn’t pretty for many portions of the game. But, the encouraging thing is that the Zags never lost their composure or doubted their belief that they would win the game. That’s a testament to the leadership in the locker room and the trust in one another on this roster.

  1. Nolan Hickman, welcome to the show! He didn’t have the start to conference play that he would have hoped for, but he came up big in this game when Gonzaga needed him the most. He’s still learning how to run the offense and press the right buttons with the right guys at the right time, but he needs to play with confidence at all times and he did that in this game. His stepback three that essentially put the game away in the final minute was a sign of that confidence. He showed no hesitation in that moment.
  2. Santa Clara’s defensive game plan was executed to near perfection. The Broncos rotated well, defended aggressively with hard denials on the ball, sent digs to the post and recovered quickly, and forced the Zags into settling for lots of perimeter shots. Physicality was the name of the game against Gonzaga’s offense. I wouldn’t say that the Zags shied away from the physical nature of the game, but it certainly disrupted the flow of the offense.
  3. By contrast, Gonzaga’s defense, particularly the ball screen defense, is simply not good enough right now. It looked like Gonzaga was turning the corner on that front in early December, but the defense has regressed in a big way from the holidays and on. There just appears to be a lot of confusion with rotations and understanding responsibilities, which is odd at this point in the season.
  4. The Zags need to figure out why it is that they started so slowly in both games in the Bay this weekend. You have to give credit to Santa Clara (and USF on Thursday night), for coming ready to play, but the Zags need to match that fire considering they are the biggest game of the year for every WCC opponent. The Zags got punched in the face in the first 10 minutes of the game and had to expend a lot of energy climbing out of that hole. They can’t assume that they can keep getting away with that.
  5. With that said, the Zags deserve respect for being able to weather the storm and withstand the best shots from their opponents. They didn’t wilt and they didn’t lose confidence. You can maybe question the focus, at times, but you certainly can’t question their mettle.
  6. Santa Clara transfer Brandin Podziemski has taken the WCC by storm, and he lived up to the billing in his first game against Gonzaga. He’s a smooth operator who plays under control, can make plays all over the floor, and can score from essentially any position. He’s a great addition to the conference and it’s great to see Santa Clara bring in a guy like him from Illinois through the transfer portal.
  7. Once again, Ben Gregg’s energy off the bench sparked the Zags just when things were looking very dire. Gregg gives Gonzaga some juice that is sorely needed when the starters are struggling, and he was a key part of Gonzaga’s 13-0 run that erased a 30-16 deficit midway through the first half. I’ve said this before about Gregg, but it bears saying again, once he learns to harness his aggression he’ll be able to keep himself out of trouble and play in all situations.
  8. Maybe have a better plan for baseline inbound plays to avoid the corner trap? It was not ideal to watch Rasir Bolton get tied up in jump balls in the corner on consecutive possessions.
  9. In the last few weeks, Julian Strawther has produced a much needed level of consistency as Gonzaga’s secondary scorer to help ease the burden on Drew Timme. The third scorer has rotated among Bolton, Hickman, and Watson but Strawther has to consistently produce as the #2 behind Timme for Gonzaga to be successful and he has through the opening games of WCC play.
  10. Notwithstanding BYU’s departure and their struggles this season, this weekend’s trip to the Bay Area confirms the belief that the WCC is trending up. What a fun weekend of Zag games.