Gonzaga didn’t go ice cold in the 2nd half against Syracuse like they did against Purdue and that’s a major turnaround. Truly a night and day shooting performance compared to yesterday. Obviously, the Orange are nowhere near the high level of play that Boilermakers are at but every victory counts. I think the most impressive stat that stood out in this basketball at breakfast matchup in Hawaii was the fact that the Zags held the Orange to 3-24 3PT (12.5%). Gonzaga’s suffocating perimeter defense was as top notch as it could get.
Graham Ike (16 points on 7-14 FG, 14 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block) and Anton Watson (12 points on 6-11 FG, 13 rebounds, 3 assists) were controlling the offense in the paint and crashing the boards. Syracuse as a whole is not a good rebounding team while on the other hand, Gonzaga looks like it could be one of the top teams in that category in the country by season’s end. Going +20 on the glass against an ACC foe is a statement.
Ryan Nembhard (11 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) was fully controlling the offense and pushing the pace. He knows where everyone is on the court at all times and found open teammates at a very high rate all game long. It’s pretty ridiculous how fast he can get those passes out of his hands. By the way, I loved Nembhard’s punch out after the steal late in the 2nd half. He was a flash when he went off to the races in transition. The little guy can get up.
Nolan Hickman was the leading scorer for the Zags with 19 points on an impressive 7-14 FG, 2-6 3PT. Better shot selection from the junior and his three-point percentage is on its way up. His overall confidence as a scorer continues to get bigger and better as each game goes along it seems. Just a smooth player on the offensive end. Hickman giving up the point guard role could end up being the best decision of his life with his draft stock growing. If he can work on stay in front of his defender, he’d be the true complete package.
Turnovers are still a nagging issue for the Zags and were the really only true downside to today’s game. 18 is unacceptable against anyone. With that being said, that high number should lessen as this team plays more together throughout the season and builds better chemistry. This group hasn’t played a whole lot with three new starters in the lineup and lot of new faces coming off the bench.
The Maui Invitational will roll on to the final day and fans are treated to a special rivalry as Gonzaga takes on UCLA at 9 PM PT on ESPN2 in the Maui Invitational’s 5th/6th place game. This will be the fourth time in the last four seasons the Zags and the Bruins have faced off. I guess you could say the two have had some entertaining battles in the past.
2006 Sweet 16: UCLA - 73, Gonzaga - 71
2015 Sweet 16: Gonzaga - 74, UCLA - 62
2021 Final Four: Gonzaga - 93, UCLA - 90 (OT)
2021 Good Sam Empire Classic: Gonzaga - 83, UCLA - 63
2022-2023 Sweet 16: Gonzaga - 79, UCLA - 76
Need another all-time matchup from these two historic programs to add to the memory book.
Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho