The Pilots (9-16, 3-7) dared the Zags (17-6, 8-2) to shoot from deep and let them get to their spots. Gonzaga made Portland pay for that poor choice. The Bulldogs made 15 three-pointers (season-high) on 33 attempts for 45.5 3PT% against the Pilots and everyone went home happy with tacos.
That version of the 2023-2024 squad looked like the program of old that wouldn’t miss from beyond the arc as well as due to their sharing of the rock. Gonzaga spread the wealth and skipped it around the floor with 21 assists on 38 made field goals to go along with only 6 total turnovers! I was brought back in time and glad to be there. The Zags were determined to make a statement on those assets of the game after the disappointing loss to Saint Mary’s which is a fantastic sign before the trip to Rupp Arena this weekend.
Portland depends on making their three-pointers in order for the offense to work and finished on a low percentage of 26.5 3PT% (9-34 3PT). Not having the star freshman in Tyler Harris (missed his third straight game with an ankle injury) was a massive absence for the Pilots. Gonzaga also exposed Portland’s weakest part of their game which comes on the glass (43-29 in favor of the Zags).
Mark Few had this to say about Shantay Legans’ squad postgame: “That team has some real skill and they spread you out and it’s different playing them. You don’t see five-out and a ‘5’ shooting three-pointers and fading to the corner. And a guy like Robertson is wheeling and dealing in the post. On relatively short prep our guys did a nice job.”
Braden Huff (25 points on 11-16 FG and 3-5 3PT, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) played like a complete offensive weapon off the bench and looks so natural doing it. His stroke is as smooth as it comes and his patience down low plus the aggressiveness on the offensive boards is a remarkable combination to have. He has shown that he’s capable of scoring against anyone in the country. Once Huff can be more of a dynamic defender against bigger opponents and quicker on his feet on that end of the floor, he’ll be the complete threat.
Anton Watson (20 points on 9-11 FG and 2-3 3PT, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block) has been the dependable rock for Gonzaga this season with his strong all-around play. You can always rely on Mr. Spokane in tough spots which I’m sure we will see a lot of against Calipari’s Cats on Saturday.
Luka Krajnovic (7 points on 3-4 FG and 1-2 3PT, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) is going to have a huge jump in confidence and minutes next season. I didn’t expect for him to come back from his hand injury so quickly and make an immediate impact off the bench like he has done so far. Gonzaga needs that boost coming off the bench the rest of the way.
The Zags always play with an upbeat and fast tempo but they’re going to especially need that speed against the likes of Kentucky on Saturday. It’s a Saturday matinee on CBS at 1 PM PT in Lexington and Gonzaga cannot walk away without a W if they want to keep the at-large bid hopes alive.
Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho