Gonzaga is only one-third of the way through the regular season, but it has been involved in several of college basketball’s most entertaining games.
The Bulldogs’ top-five showdown with Duke and top-seven clash with Tennessee were packed with last-second shots, defensive stands, clutch 3-pointers and memorable individual performances. Illinois, Arizona, Creighton and Washington weren’t exactly snoozers.
At one point in Tennessee’s 76-73 win over Gonzaga, an official approached Vols coach Rick Barnes and said, “This game feels like March.” Responded Barnes: “Well, then, let’s ref it like March.”
GU coach Mark Few noted that the game had the feel of an Elite Eight matchup.
Here’s a look back at another instant classic in our Gonzaga rewind.
Reinforcing the boards
The Zags have outrebounded nine of 10 opponents and they won the glass 41-39 against Tennessee. It just didn’t seem like it because the Volunteers collected 16 offensive rebounds, nine in the second half.
Those extra shots – Tennessee had 72 field-goal attempts to Gonzaga’s 59 – didn’t always add up to points, but they had an impact. Few said Tennessee was easily the most physical team GU has faced this season. Zach Norvell Jr. agreed, saying the Vols “get after it.”
“It all came down to rebounding for us,” wing Corey Kispert said. “There were multiple times where they got two or three shots. Those guys are good and they’re going to take advantage of that.
“Those big, athletic teams, we really need to commit five to rebounding on the defensive end and securing those rebounds off their first shot.”
Gonzaga did its share of second-chance damage, led by Brandon Clarke’s six offensive boards.
Grant Williams paced the Vols with 12 rebounds and four teammates had at least five.
Kispert said rebounding “is about 90 percent will. Just looking a guy square in the face and saying, ‘You’re not getting this rebound.’ The other 10 percent is they’re crazy athletic. There were some times those guys’ heads were at the rims going to get the ball.”
Duke grabbed 22 offensive rebounds and outboarded Gonzaga by eight.
Blowouts over quality opponents are extremely rare, but the Zags probably could have made things easier on themselves and avoided some of the late-game drama against Illinois, Duke, Washington and Tennessee.
A common thread in Gonzaga’s close contests has been the Zags building a reasonably comfortable lead only to see the opponent rally to set up those thrilling finishes.
Late in Sunday’s first half, Gonzaga bumped its lead to 33-27, but Tennessee responded by scoring the next seven points.
In segments of the second half, Gonzaga was shooting above 50 percent, Tennessee was in the mid-30s and the Zags’ lead was only in the four- to six-point range.
The Zags missed several opportunities to expand their lead into double digits.
Gonzaga went scoreless over the final 3:15 of the first half, while Tennessee cashed in with six free throws. Meanwhile, the Zags – 19 of 19 at the free-throw line vs. Washington – made just 3 of 7 in the first half.
The Zags scored on their first four possessions of the second half, but a sequence of three turnovers in less than 3 minutes helped Tennessee cut into a seven-point deficit.
Gonzaga moved in front 58-50 on Norvell’s 3-pointer, but the Vols capitalized on two turnovers to close within 58-55. The Zags only committed 11 turnovers, but they resulted in 16 Volunteer points.
The Volunteers erased GU’s nine-point lead with 6:10 remaining on the strength of five 3-pointers, the last three by Admiral Schofield.
We’ve touched on this before, but some of Gonzaga’s issues, particularly late in games, can probably be traced to its limited rotation. The Zags are without forward Killian Tillie (ankle) and Geno Crandall (hand) probably until early January.
All five starters played 30-plus minutes Sunday with Kispert and Josh Perkins each logging 37.
“I can definitely feel it,” Clarke said. “It definitely puts a bit more pressure on us to play longer minutes and go harder, because we don’t have those other players coming in. We still have a team that’s very good that can still win games. We can’t really lean on that too much. We still have to find a way.”
Until Sunday, the Zags had done just that.
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