Gonzaga’s game last Thursday night, with Tillie on the bench resting his ankle, saw 5 of the 6 main players for the Zags picking Lions’ pockets, and accounting for 13 steals. Filip Petrusev was the only starter without a steal, while Corey Kispert grabbed 5, Drew Timme added 3, Joel Ayayi stole 3 more and Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder pilfered 1 a-piece. One of the few downsides on the night for the Bulldogs was the fact that the Lions were able to get 9 steals themselves and cause 12 Gonzaga turnovers. But the Zags were able to capitalize on 17 LMU turnovers in a big way—especially on the more and more common quick pushes in transition from the defensive end to the offensive one resulting in lay ups or dunks. Those quick pushes and sometimes easy baskets helped boost the Zags shooting numbers on the night, as the Bulldogs finished shooting 60% on a 30 for 50 effort, including a decent 7 of 20 from beyond the arc for 35%. That was good enough for a well-earned victory at home that saw Gonzaga up by a slim 8 at halftime, but able to extend that lead considerably in the 2nd half by as much as 28 before finishing with a score of 85-67
Gonzaga’s bigs, especially, were rolling against LMU. In the absence of Tillie, we saw the freshman native of Texas, Drew Timme, start the game and reassert his excellence on both ends of the court. Filip Petrusev, the other anchor down low for the team, has simply been money down low from day 1 this season and was no different on Thursday night. Both forwards missed only 1 field goal each in the game against the Lions: Timme on an 8 for 9 effort shooting, Petrusev at 5 for 6. Timme added 8 rebounds and 2 assists to his 17 points, while Petrusev added 6 rebounds to his 21 points—getting a lot of those at the free throw line in an 11 for 15 effort.
Besides stealing the night away on defense Thursday, the backcourt for Gonzaga was outstanding on their offensive end as well. Joel Ayayi had the only difficult week, getting just 5 points and 3 rebounds against LMU and 5 rebounds and a single 3-point basket against Saint Mary’s to open up scoring on Saturday night. Kispert and Gilder picked up the slack against LMU, both shooting 50% from deep on mutual 3 for 6 efforts, adding 11 and 17 points respectively.
Gilder’s fellow graduate transfer from Texas on the team, Ryan Woolridge (Gilder from Texas A&M, and Woolridge from North Texas University) has been absolutely on point at point—and he was phenomenal again this week. He was 5 for 7 shooting against both LMU and Saint Mary’s, adding 12 and 11 points respectively. In addition to his lightning-quick drives to the hoop and acrobatic finishes at the rim, I thought one of his 7 assists for the week was particularly noteworthy. Against LMU, after Ayayi was able to poke the ball away on D, and get it upcourt to Woolridge, Ryan crossed the ball over to avoid a defender at half court and seeing a streaking Petrusev sent a bullet pass from halfcourt perfectly between defenders, hitting Filip in stride for a monster dunk without even a dribble.
Both of the graduate, native-Texan guards have been devastating for opponents on both ends of the court and the Lions and Gaels found that out the hard way. The two continued their thieving ways against Saint Mary’s by getting 3 steals each, and succeeded in doing more than their parts to further stifle the Gael’s offense. Gilder made those steals count, especially when he found Woolridge streaking down the court after making them, which was a common occurrence on Saturday. Woolridge had, about midway through the second half against SM, a 7-0 scoring run by himself—scoring an and-1 basket after an acrobatic finish at the rim and then two lay-ups—the first off a steal by Gilder who sent an alley-oop at the Zags rim his way, and the second off a steal of his own that Woolridge was able to dribble in for an easy finish on the other end. Though Gilder had a more subdued scoring night against the Gaels, going 3 for 6 shooting, adding 3 rebounds, 5 assists and a block to his 7 points—his one 3-pointer came off an assist from a driving Woolridge who took the defense with him toward the basket and left the ball for Gilder in the right corner in front of the Gaels’ bench, hitting the shot as time expired in the first half to put Gonzaga up by a back-breaking margin of 53-28.
Against Saint Mary’s we saw what every true Zag fan has been waiting anxiously for in the previous 3 games: the ever-so-welcome return of Killian Tille, aka: KT, aka: Godzilla. KT was coming back from a nasty ankle sprain suffered the Thursday prior to the LMU game when the Zags were playing Santa Clara. After a good week and a half without playing, Tillie went on another tear on both ends of the court Saturday. In 25 minutes Tillie helped suffocate the Gaels’ offense with his hustle and strong position on defense, and crushed them on his own offensive end by going 7 of 10 shooting, 3 of 5 from beyond the arc, adding 2 rebounds and an assist to his 19 points. He shared defensive responsibilities on the very dangerous Malik Fitts with his fellow veteran-Zag on the team, Corey Kispert. Together, they helped limit Fitts to just 12 points in the contest. Kispert continued his humble excellence on offense as well, taking only the best shots and sinking 2 for 4 from deep, 4 for 7 overall, adding 2 assists to his 10 points.
Seeing Tillie pick up where he left off with another performance over or near 20 points was a blessing for Zag Nation fans. But it was Tillie’s absence that has allowed for another Godzilla-like candidate to further emerge out of the deep—boding very well, I think, for Gonzaga’s post-season hopes. When Tillie was injured against Santa Clara, freshman Drew Timme more than just stepped in to fill the void. For a good portion of the season, Timme has been getting considerable play as a sub for either Tillie or Petrusev in the front court and doing quite well off the bench. As a starter against San Francisco on February 1st, and last Thursday against LMU, he was outstanding. He earned player of the game honors in the very tight contest at SF, where he scored 19, added 3 blocks and shot a very cool, collected 7 for 8 from the foul line to help seal the win.
We already mentioned his 17 points and 8 rebounds against LMU, but he was able to eclipse both of those efforts off the bench against Saint Mary’s on Saturday in just 23 minutes of play. Timme had a team-high and career-high 20 points on 7 for 8 shooting as well as a double-double with his 10 rebounds—3 of those on the offensive end where he always attacks the boards with gusto. Though he has shown occasional difficulties from the free-throw line, Timme’s stroke there seems to be smoothing out and he was a perfect 6 for 6 in Moraga. Not only is he the block leader for the team at the moment, he is one of 7 players (all 7 of the essentially 7-man rotation for the Zags) who is averaging in double digits scoring per game. He and Ryan Woolridge are tied at the bottom of that list right now with 10.3 points per game. Last time I checked no team in college basketball had more than 5 players averaging in double digits. With balance like that, no wonder Gonzaga owns the #1 offense in the country.
At the top of the points per game list for the Zags, with 17.2, is Filip Petrusev—the Serbian native who also leads Gonzaga in rebounds with 7.9 per contest. He had another stellar showing against Saint Mary’s, topping both averages and joining Timme on the double-double list with his 18 points and 11 rebounds. Going 8 for 11 shooting and exhibiting a host of post moves, a very deft touch around the rim, as well as the ability to slam the ball home, Petrusev was outstanding once again. He did, however, have an awkward moment that caught the attention of one of the ESPN announcers enough to play it back in slow motion. In the play that happened about 7 minutes into the 2nd half, he was calling for the ball down low while sealing off a defender who was struggling to defend him. He had good position it seemed, and when Gilder shot a 3 instead of passing to him in the post, he seemed to just walk away from the play in obvious frustration, ignoring the rebound and all that was happening around him.
Keith Ybanez of The Slipper Still Fits very aptly called it a “little tantrum” and a “moment of madness”—finding it as inexcusable as I do. Petrusev has, at times this season, seemed to be a bit of a whiner. Perhaps it’s his immaturity and/or ego getting the best of him. It’s likely very difficult not to be egotistical when you’re as good as he is at his young age—and I’m willing to forgive his perhaps all-too-common complaints to the refs for fouls against his opponents when he should be running back on defense. But getting so frustrated with your own teammates that you walk away from a play that’s still going on is another matter altogether. Ybanez brings up the possibility that Petrusev was being held in the post (maybe he had been being held all night) and the frustration was with the ref, not Gilder. Either way, that shit’s got to get set aside while dealing with the task at hand. Whatever the case—let’s not do that anymore. Zag Nation loves you and thinks you’re awesome, but you need to act like a GU Bulldog should act. It seemed Mark Few pulled him from the game shortly thereafter and likely told him just that (probably without any of the kindness mixed in). On a positive note, Petrusev added insult to injury by sinking a rare straight-away 3-pointer later in the game, during a series of 3 consecutive 3’s from the Zags’ Tillie, Petrusev and Kispert that stretched the lead to its widest margin of 88-54.
Just to give you a sense of how dominant the Zags were in this game: 1. Gonzaga started the game by going 14 of 15 from the field, missing only one shot in the first 12 and a half minutes. 2. GU shot 74% in the first half of play and finished near that mark at 67.9% on 36 makes in 53 attempts—including over 53.3% from beyond the arc on an 8 of 15 effort. 3. GU went on a 22-2 run in the first half during which the Gaels were held without a basket for over 7 minutes, ending with the Zags up 34-12. 4. I counted 5 and-1 baskets for the Zags, adding many 3's the hard way to their 3-point efforts from deep. 5. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Gaels 33-23--and I won’t even complain about the 9 to 6 margin in favor of SM on the offensive boards since there’s very little chance to get offensive rebounds when you make so many shots. 6. GU shot about 72% from the free throw line in both games this week and though that wouldn’t be reason for many teams to celebrate, it is for this team as the Bulldogs continue to improve their season average, having had 4-straight games over 70%.
The complaint that can be made in both games concerns turnovers. Against LMU, despite forcing 17 turnovers, the Zags gave up the ball 12 times. In the first few minutes in Moraga, it was turnovers and sloppy play that kept the score close. It’s surprising that a team who wins so convincingly can have 7 turnovers in the first 8 minutes of play. Though Gonzaga caused 14 turnovers in the game, they gave the ball up 15 times. That’s as much as I’ve got for complaints, though. Gonzaga was simply dominant and as good as one could hope for in every other aspect of the game. They were even better than I could hope for as I predicted they'd win by a score of 88-77--getting the Zags score pretty close but not expecting the defense to keep a very good Saint Mary's team from scoring more than 60 points. Despite the hefty loss, Saint Mary’s definitely has some dangerous folks on their squad. Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts are very good players. They showed moments of brilliance and were a combined 15 for 30 shooting from the field, scoring 23 and 12 points respectively. They will have to be well accounted for when the Gaels travel up to Spokane to finish WCC play on the 29th of February.
Next on the slate in Gonzaga’s pursuit of WCC perfection is a road game against the Pepperdine Waves in Malibu. Pepperdine gave the Zags a good run for their money during the last contest between the two teams in Spokane. Killian Tillie scored 20 in that game and blocked Colbey Ross’s shot attempt that could have tied the game in the waning seconds—sealing a 5-point victory for Gonzaga 75-70. Ross was very good in the game and both he and Kameron Edwards had double-doubles for the game—Edwards with 14 points and 10 rebounds, Ross with 24 points and 10 assists. Though Tillie, Petrusev (16 points and 10 rebounds) and Ayayi (5 for 7 shooting and 2-4 from deep) played well in that game, the team struggled to come away with a narrow win at home. This game is going to be a good gauge of how well the Zags have improved since early in January. My guess is they’ve improved a great deal and they’re going to surf to a victory over the waves down in Malibu. My guess: 88-63.
P.S. I don't know if you've been paying any attention to what former Zag turned NBA-rookie Brandon Clarke has been doing with the Memphis Grizzlies and fellow NBA-rookie Ja Morant lately, but he had a career-high 27 points tonight against Portland. Have a great weekend, and GO ZAGS!!!
~ Clark Karoses