It was not the most beautiful bounce back effort from Gonzaga coming off a loss, a situation this program hasn’t had to deal with since losing at BYU in February 2020. After taking a bunch of blows, the Zags buckled down in the final five minutes to close out a VERY pesky Tarleton State squad that held their hosts to 27 points below their season scoring average. Here are the talking points from an unexpectedly tight game:
- The emotional letdown is real. Friday’s game against Duke (and a week in Vegas) was assuredly draining, and it was probably difficult to get in the right headspace for this game while dealing with an aggressive but lesser opponent. But I think that’s what made this a rare productive buy-game for the Zags. It was a painful but valuable reminder on the importance of being mentally engaged for every opponent and executing at a high level no matter the circumstances.
- Gonzaga’s opening offensive possession featured a turnover off an over-the-top entry pass from Chet Holmgren to Drew Timme in a high low sequence. Considering the severe lack of size in Tarleton State’s lineup, it’s not really a turnover that should ever happen. With the emphasis that Gonzaga places on passing between the frontcourt players, I’d like to see the bigs take care of the ball better and eliminate those unforced errors. They are all great passers, and we can hold them to the highest of standards in that regard.
- Tarleton State’s speed and defensive intensity, coupled with Gonzaga’s estrangement from playing quality basketball, yielded the worst 40 minutes of basketball for the Zags this year. Hopefully that was the worst performance that we’ll see from Gonzaga for the remainder of the season. It has to be, right?
- The Zags certainly played poorly relative to their standards, but you also have to credit Tarleton State for forcing Gonzaga to grind and play an ugly, uncomfortable game. The Zags were clearly taken out of their offensive flow (whether they should have allowed that to happen is a different issue) as their 9 total assists is maybe the biggest indicator of how much they struggled. Nothing came easy.
- Drew Timme, who was not in foul trouble, was limited to a pair of field goal attempts in the game—one in each half. Part of that is that the Texans gladly sent him to the free throw line where he was not exactly making them pay with a 67% conversion rate. But the other part is a testament to Tarleton State’s work ethic at the defensive end constantly bumping him on the blocks and/or on his rolls and dives to the basket to disrupt the offense’s rhythm.
- Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game for me was Gonzaga’s failure to use its defense to create easy scoring opportunities with the halfcourt offense ineffective. Sure, there were some blocks and a shotclock violation sprinkled throughout the evening, but the suffocating pressure wasn’t there for long stretches of the game. That needs to be Gonzaga’s consistent identity this season.
- Gonzaga needs to embrace the physical basketball game. The Zags want to play fast and play the beautiful game (which I love, btw, this is not a criticism of that style of play), but they also can’t continue to let teams just body them off the ball repeatedly.
- For as masterful as Andrew Nembhard played against UCLA last week, he followed that up with two tough games in a row. The sequel to the 6 point, 6 turnover game against Duke was an 8-point 3 turnover performance which saw him shoot 4-12 from the field. His track record obviously proves he’s much closer to the guy we saw against UCLA, but that’s two straight games struggling against physical, high-intensity ball pressure (of course, all guards struggle against that). I’m not worried about it, but it’s something to watch for as teams game plan how to most effectively defend him.
- Rasir Bolton continues to demonstrate how valuable he is with his shooting, slashing, and ability to be a one-man fastbreak. What a phenomenal addition via the transfer portal.
- Stop turning the ball over. Seriously. 17 on Friday night was followed by 16 in this game. Be smarter and stronger with the ball.