The Gonzaga Bulldogs ended their two-game losing streak with a comfortable 89-55 victory over the UT-Arlington Mavericks. After a brutal 30-day stretch that tested Gonzaga physically and mentally, a less strenuous appointment at home was just what the doctor ordered.
Rui Hachimura led all scorers with 20 points along with 11 rebounds, and Brandon Clarke chipped in a double-double of his own with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Filip Petrusev (14 points), Corey Kispert (12 points), and Josh Perkins (10 points) also reached double figures. Brian Warren (12 points) and Tiandre Jackson-Young (10 points) led the way for the Mavericks.
The Zags raced out to a 19-5 lead by getting back to basics on both ends of the floor. The offense presented a balanced inside-out attack thanks in part to Josh Perkins picking up where he left off over the weekend with strong shooting from the arc. At the other end of the floor, Gonzaga’s beleaguered defense got a bit of a reprieve against UT-Arlington’s woeful offense, holding the Mavericks to 2-15 shooting inside the first eight minutes of the game and even forcing a shot clock violation! Progress!
But for every two steps forward, there were still moments in this game where Gonzaga’s defense took a step back. Early on it looked like the Zags were going to run away with a laugher as they led by as many as 20 points in the first, only to see the Mavericks quickly cut that deficit to nine thanks to silly fouls and unforced errors. The Zags were able to pull away late in the first half to take a 48-30 lead into the break, but that wasn’t enough to allay the concerns that have become more prominent over the last two weeks.
The Zags struggled out of the gates to start to the second half, shooting 1-7 from the field at the first media timeout and failing to force the Mavericks to cover the entirety of the floor. But Gonzaga is the top offense on KenPom for a reason, and eventually stretched its lead to as much as 34 points with a pair of Perkins plays (a no-look shovel pass while on the ground to feed Norvell at the rim and then a steal leading to a transition dunk) highlighting the big run in the half.
While there is clearly work to be done, there were still positives to take out of this game. Mark Few capitalized on the opportunity to play a lesser opponent by getting Joel Ayayi more meaningful playing time with the starters in the first half. The Zags need to find a reliable backup point guard for the present who can also be groomed to take the reins next season when Perkins is gone, so these types of games should be the audition for Ayayi and Greg Foster Jr. to seize that role.
Of course, one would expect Gonzaga’s numbers to look excellent across the board against an opponent that is the caliber of UTA (no offense to the Mavs). The question that will linger over the coming months, as Gonzaga transitions to a less stressful part of its schedule, is whether the defense can improve enough to stop the best teams in the country. We’ll find out in time.