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Analysis: Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga light up Washington’s zone

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 10, 2017, 10:04 p.m.

Gonzaga players cheer from the bench late in the second half of Sunday’s 97-70 win over Washington. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Gonzaga players cheer from the bench late in the second half of Sunday’s 97-70 win over Washington. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

SEATTLE – Johnathan Williams maneuvered inside for a basket as Gonzaga’s lead mushroomed in the second half.

The senior forward was so locked in he probably didn’t hear the description from the public address announcer at Hec Edmundson Pavilion as he trotted back down court.

“And that’s two more for Williams.”

When the final accounting was done, that was two of 23 points for Williams and five teammates hit double figures as the 12th-ranked Zags put on an offensive clinic in a 97-70 blowout of Washington in front of 9,749 Sunday.

Job one for Gonzaga (8-2) was solving Washington’s zone defense, brought to Montlake by first-year coach Mike Hopkins, a 22-year disciple of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange’s patented extended 2-3.

Solving didn’t involve settling for 3-point shots.

The Zags were patient and found early success inside with Williams and forward Killian Tillie scoring on an assortment of layups, dunks, jump hooks and floaters.

Williams had been in a mini-slump since his 39-point masterpiece against Florida at the PK80. He averaged just 9.7 points in the last four games and made just 14 of 36 shots.

“I stopped worrying about shots and started worrying about playing hard and just having fun,” said Williams, who was 9 of 14 from the floor. “I think sometimes people get caught up not having fun and putting too much pressure on themselves.”

Zach Norvell Jr. added some flare with a soaring dunk while being hacked. Tillie’s jam on a feed from Josh Perkins capped a 10-0 run and the Zags were on top 23-11.

Washington (7-3), coming off a huge win over No. 2 Kansas, never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.

“We took the open 3 when it was there but I think the message was start inside out,” said Josh Perkins, who had 14 points, eight assists and four steals. “We have the best bigs in the country so we have to use them. I think we did that.”

Williams turned point-forward on several occasions when he was double-teamed in the lane. He finished with four assists and a couple more nice passes that resulted in teammates going to the free-throw line.

“Just taking my time,” he said. “If I get doubled, I’d rather take a 5-second count before losing the ball. Tillie and Rui (Hachimura) were kind of ghosting them by the basket and I could dump it off to them, and ‘Snacks’ (Norvell’s nickname) flashed a couple of times.”

The Zags were chilly from the perimeter in the first half but it didn’t matter. They were 11 of 18 on 2-point attempts, led by as many as 19 and settled for a 47-33 lead at half.

Gonzaga’s best attribute was being opportunistic. The Huskies’ eight first-half turnovers led to 10 GU points. The Zags also got loose in transition after Huskies’ missed shots.

The Zags dominated the glass with 13 offensive rebounds that they converted into 26 points.

“A night like this, rebounding has got to be a factor,” Hopkins said. “We didn’t rebound. Second-chance points killed us. Transition baskets killed us.”

Gonzaga’s 3-pointers arrived in a second-half flurry. Perkins and Silas Melson each made a pair and Norvell, after missing his first seven attempts from distance, dropped two 3s.

The Zags didn’t exactly cool off inside, making 12 of 19 2-pointers in the final half.

Many of those 2-pointers were initiated by Williams’ shots or passes.

“He’s a pro,” said Norvell, who had 21 points. “Honestly I don’t feel anyone can stop him in the country and I’m not just saying that because he’s my teammate. He’s such a smart guy. He really breaks down his opponent before he steps on the court.”

Highlights


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Analysis: Gonzaga absorbs Texas A&M’s early shots, pulls away for comfortable win

UPDATED: 12:04 a.m.

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