Sharpening the sword before the trip to Las Vegas
Julian Strawther returned to form, Chet Holgren was more involved and nine players got double digit minutes as the Zags do some fine tuning before the big trip to Las Vegas to face UCLA and Duke.
1. I think you’ll see this a lot in WCC play (I’m looking at you St. Mary’s and Pacific): Early in the game, Alcorn St. tried to slow the pace and eat the clock. They soon discovered, after a couple of shot clock violations, Gonzaga’s smothering defense isn’t easy to score against in 10 seconds or less. Timme and Holmgren are both fantastic at hedging, mobile enough to return to their man without getting burned while the GU guards are long and quick. Future opponents may successfully slow the pace against the Zags, but shot clock violations and empty possessions will be plentiful.
2. Julian Strawther proved his game against Texas was an anomaly. He once again led the team in scoring with a career high 18 points including 3 for 4 from deep. What impressed me the most tonight was his quick release from anywhere around the arc. He did set-up in the corner on one of his threes, but the other two were quick catch and shoot scores while he was on the move. He also had a great assist to a cutting Hickman. If (when) he has a game like this against UCLA and/or Duke he’ll quickly be on the national radar and I won’t be surprised to see him on draft boards by season’s end.
3. We all know Drew Timme could drop fifty in a game like this, but I love to see him take these opportunities to work on his passing. His six assists were a career. He’s helping his teammates develop while refining a skill he’ll surely use when opponents inevitably double and triple team him.
4. Chet Holmgren had a nice game tonight; 4 of 6 shooting, 1 of 2 from deep with 4 blocks. While watching him get more involved in the offense is satisfying, seeing him intimidate under the basket is incredible. Even when he doesn’t block the shot he causes opponents to miss badly or travel. His turnover troubles, 5 against Dixie St and 4 tonight, should diminish as he adjusts to the game speed and realizes it is tougher for a 7-footer to dribble against D-1 players than it was high schoolers.
5. Ben Gregg made a strong case tonight to be the fourth big. He demonstrated a couple of nice post moves and looked very comfortable in the paint. Conversely, Kaden Perry had five fouls in five minutes. I’m glad to see Ben show his stuff and am not giving up on Kaden. I’m quite sure one or both guys will be the difference in a big game when an ankle twist or foul trouble forces them into action.
6. For the third time, I’m impressed by Hunter Sallis’ athleticism and motor but wonder why his isn’t contributing more. That is until I look at the box score and see his dropped double digits while shooting over 65% from the field. Like Chet he’s making freshman mistakes in November that should all but disappear March.
7. I know it ain’t gonna happen, but I’d love to see three bigs on the floor at the same time. Holmgren at the “3”, Watson “4” and Timme “5” with Gregg or Perry coming off the bench. All the bigs except Perry are above average ball handlers, in fact, Holmgren brought the ball to the frontcourt several times tonight. Watson could guard the opponents “3” and this would be a very tough defensive line-up. I know we’ll more than likely see four guards but it would be interesting to see how well the big guys played together.
8. It used to be a camera shot of John Stockton, then it was a mention of volleyball but now the official Gonzaga “take a shot” drinking game will be triggered every time a TV announcer says the word unicorn.
9. Let’s face it, Greg Heister is Spokane’s version of famed Cub’s announcer Harry Caray. Love him or hate, his silly interactions with Dan Dickau and Richard Fox are an integral part of watching locally broadcast Gonzaga games. Heister was absent tonight and seeing the game broadcast by Tom Glasgow with Fox was like partaking in a palate cleansing sorbet. I’ll go back to the Heister hard stuff on Friday. By the way, Fox was really good.
10. I read a great article in the New York Times about the Southwestern Athletic Conference (Alcorn St./Texas Southern) signing a home and home basketball contract with the PAC-12 starting next year: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/20/sports/ncaabasketball/pac-12-swac-basketball.html
We all know SWAC teams are nomads in November playing double digit games on the road to fund their basketball programs. SWAC schools draw huge crowds for football but average less than 1,600 attendance for basketball games. The games should help SWAC basketball attendance while giving the PAC-12 players a different cultural experience i.e. visiting a small campus in a small town in a part of the country they possible haven’t seen before. Is this something Gonzaga would be willing to do?