OMAHA, Neb. – In one of the huddles during a break in Creighton’s early 3-point barrage, Gonzaga senior point guard Josh Perkins was encouraging his teammates to stick together.
“They shot the ball extremely well in the first half,” Perkins said. “Everything I saw go up went in. I think (assistant) coach Tommy (Lloyd) said we were counter-punching. We took their best shot, but it was time for them to feel ours.”
Perkins and the offense did just that, but equally as important was a stretch of defense that allowed GU to take control midway through the second half Saturday.
The latest Gonzaga rewind addresses Perkins’ ridiculous stat line, the impact of the defense and the good and bad of the final few minutes.
Perkins has been really good most of the season, but he took it to another level against Creighton.
He directed the offense right where it needed to go: inside to Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, into the hands of Zach Norvell Jr., and on occasion calling his own number.
The Zags, averaging 98.4 points per game, preach finding the best matchup and feeding the hot hand.
“You play to the matchups,” Perkins said. “It seemed like every time we ran high-low we got to a quick post-up in the middle of the floor where they couldn’t double.”
That led to a chunk of Clarke’s and Hachimura’s combined 49 points. The tandem kept Gonzaga within range in the first half. The Zags also stress their balance and multiple options. Perkins assisted on Jeremy Jones’ first-half 3-pointer and both of Corey Kispert’s 3-pointers that gave the Zags the lead midway through the second half.
“It starts with Perk,” coach Mark Few said. “It’s pretty special what he’s putting together as far as steady-Eddie decision-making. Of the 150-200 decisions he has to make, pass, shoot, dribble, whatever, he’s hitting about 98 percent.”
It might have been even higher in his 13-point, one-turnover effort in 36 minutes.
“They’re a problem to stop,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, sounding much like Arizona’s Sean Miller and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. “Their efficiency because of the ability to have so many guys that can shoot it and with two guys that will probably play in the NBA in Clarke and Hachimura.
“And then they have someone like Perkins, who can really score the basketball but is willing to facilitate and make you pay every time you make a mistake.”
DEFENSE SORTA KILLS IT
The Zags refer to three consecutive defensive stops as “kills.” They weren’t killing it most of the game, giving up 14 3-pointers, 48.6 percent field-goal accuracy and 92 points.
But the unit did come through in the game’s defining stretch. Creighton had six straight empty possessions, including three consecutive turnovers, as a Zags’ 12-0 run created an 84-73 lead with 8:10 remaining. Creighton actually had three shots on the sixth possession, thanks to a pair of offensive rebounds after Brandon Clarke’s blocked shots.
Ty-Shon Alexander broke the drought with a field goal, but the Bluejays’ next five possessions yielded just one point. During the stretch, the Zags were able to contest perimeter shots and stay in front of Bluejays driving into the lane.
“Our offense is always going to be fine,” Perkins said. “We just needed to figure out some things defensively.”
ABOUT THAT FINISH
Gonzaga didn’t exactly put a pretty bow on Saturday’s victory. The Zags have had three close games and all of them had some hiccups.
The Zags had a couple of turnovers in the final minute against Creighton’s full-court press and struggled to inbound the ball cleanly on a few other occasions. They did hit their free throws late – a bugaboo in the closing minutes against Duke – as Perkins made two and Clarke hit six in a row in the final 1:07.
Gonzaga also committed a foul on Martin Krampelj’s layup with 17 seconds left, stopping the clock and giving Creighton a chance to set up its press if the forward had made the free throw.
The miscues weren’t costly because Gonzaga had enough of a cushion. Still, the Zags encountered late turnovers against Illinois in Maui – a little more understandable because the Illini are a high-pressure outfit – and fouled on a made 3-pointer with 61 seconds remaining.
“It was tough because it’s a deadball and people can’t move when they take it out,” Perkins said. “We just need to catch the ball. The game wasn’t that close at the end so it didn’t hurt us but we’ll definitely look at that and fix it.”
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