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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over UCLA


Gonzaga v UCLA Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

I’m still shaking my head in disbelief about how this game went down. College kids were in Vegas making wild choices on national television. Fortunately, for Gonzaga fans, they’ll get to do it all over again on Saturday night against UConn after a game that embodied the “survive and advance” mantra.

  1. Malachi Smith got his tournament redemption. He transferred to Gonzaga to have an opportunity to get this moment, and he didn’t squander it when it arrived. His second half performance is a huge reason why Gonzaga will be playing on Saturday night.
  2. Gonzaga went right to work inside with Adem Bona out of the lineup for the Bruins with Drew Timme touching the ball early on just about every possession in the first half. Mick Cronin tried out reserves Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne on Timme first, but we saw pretty quickly that those guys, and UCLA as a team, would have no answers for Timme on this night.
  3. It’s fun to watch Timme get rolling like he did in this game, but when it happens so early in the game there was a little bit of worry that the rest of his teammates would play too deferential for the rest of the night and disrupt the offensive flow. To be completely clear, I am not at all complaining about Timme going nuclear, especially when it looked like no one was ready to step up to be the secondary scorer, but it felt like that’s what happened in this one.
  4. Gonzaga’s defense in the first half was atrocious. It looked like each Zag hadn’t slept since they arrived in Vegas and as a result they processed everything extra slow on the floor. The guards repeatedly failed to keep Tyger Campbell bottled up and in front of them and the team as a whole played as if they had never seen a ball screen before.
  5. You don’t see too many games with a rebounding disparity as large as the one between these teams (50-26) and that results in such a tight game. That’s a credit to UCLA’s efficiency and opportunism with Gonzaga’s turnover issues, but also a credit to how hard Gonzaga fought to crawl back in this game. The Zags committed to winning the physical battles for the boards, and it paid off for them in the end.
  6. Gonzaga shot 54% in the first half and found themselves trailing by 13 points because there were far too many bad turnovers from Gonzaga. UCLA excels at forcing turnovers, but these were mostly unforced errors. The Zags turned it over at least three times in the first half just dribbling the ball too high (the stupid overinflated balls!!) and losing it despite minimal pressure from the Bruins. That just can’t happen.
  7. It’s pretty much impossible to win in this tournament when you get zero combined points from your starting point guard and shooting guard, and that is exacerbated when they aren’t bringing much to the table at the defensive end. To his credit, Few didn’t stubbornly stick with Hickman and Bolton in the second half. They got until the first media timeout in the second half, but it was clear that they didn’t have it and weren’t going to find it (Hickman’s body language, in particular, was not indicative of a guy who was going to get straightened out in the second half). Things turned around for Gonzaga when Sallis and Smith checked in and it would have been coaching malpractice not to roll with them for the rest of the game notwithstanding the last minute situational substitutions.
  8. It will be easy to miss, but Hunter Sallis put together a very impactful game when Gonzaga really needed solutions in the backcourt off the bench. He scored 5 of the backcourt’s 7 points in the first half, and his defense in the second half was vital in slowing down the UCLA offense.
  9. We’ve talked about the need for Gonzaga to go on one or two defensive runs per game if they’re not gonna be one of the top defensive teams in the country (the first half very much confirmed that is not a possibility), and they absolutely pulled off the defensive run in the middle of the second half. To hold UCLA without a field goal for over 11 minutes is gritty stuff. This team is tough as nails.
  10. Drew Timme is the consummate gamer. He never gave up. His fighting spirit has no equal. What a Zag.