It’s easy to get swept up in all of the points, assists and dunks, so naturally we’re going to go there again.
It was all on display when No. 1 Gonzaga brushed aside North Dakota State 102-60 on Monday night in what amounted to a rerun of blowouts over Idaho State, Texas Southern and Texas A&M at the outset of the season.
We dive deeper into the offense and the impact of senior point guard Josh Perkins in the latest Gonzaga rewind.
Easy as 1-2-3
The Zags’ 3-point shooting, hit-or-miss through the first five games, has been electric in the last two games. They dropped 15 3-pointers on NDSU after hitting 10 against Duke. They finished 25 of 47 in those two games, lifting the team’s overall accuracy to nearly 39 percent.
It’s just another thing to worry about for opponents, who probably prefer watching the Zags cast from distance rather than repeatedly feeding highly efficient forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke at the mid- or low post. Those two have scored in double figures in all seven games.
Three-pointers create operating room for the bigs. When it’s bigs hitting those 3-pointers, it brings rim-protecting defenders outside and creates operating room for others. Consider this: With Geno Crandall sidelined by a fractured hand, Filip Petrusev’s 38.5 is the lowest 3-point percentage of the first seven players in the rotation.
“It’s big-time for us when we’re able to make 3s,” wing Zach Norvell Jr. said. “It stretches the defense.”
Corey Kispert made five 3s and Norvell Jr. hit four against the Bison, while forwards Hachimura and Petrusev combined for three more.
“It feels really good when you know you’re open, the ball is coming into your hands, and you have confidence to knock it down,” Kispert said. “I’ve put in the work. To see the ball go through the hoop multiple times in a game is big for my confidence.”
Three-pointers add up in a hurry. Gonzaga scored 35 points in the last 10 minutes of the first half, 18 of those on six 3-pointers.
GU has two 60-point halves, four in the 50s and six in the 40s.
“I feel like a team can’t take a possession off on defense,” Norvell said. “We have threats every time we’re out there, whether it’s BC’s (Clarke’s) matchup, Rui has a ton of mismatches, Corey is a good slasher for us. We have a lot of guys that can fill it up in bunches.”
Perks of the job
Perkins is in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career, and the timing couldn’t be better. Gonzaga is halfway through its toughest nonconference challenges after winning the Maui Invitational. Creighton is up next on Saturday, followed by Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Gonzaga is one of eight teams averaging 20-plus assists. Perkins leads the way at eight per game. Beyond the numbers, he’s provided leadership on a team lacking proven ball-handlers, particularly with Crandall sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
“Early (on), you ride the highs and feel the lows,” Perkins said. “But now I know and tell myself and the guys to stay levelheaded.”
Perkins still fires an occasional high-risk pass, but more often he’s making the simple, effective play. Coach Mark Few has stressed that Perkins is much better when he plays on the ground.
“Josh has done a great job of settling us down, especially on the offensive end,” Few said. “He’s done a really good job of getting us in the right spot, making the right decisions and playing with great pace.”
Perkins logged 38 minutes against Duke. Minus Crandall, he’s going to be a fixture on the court in tight games. He said in the preseason he wasn’t able to work on conditioning and strength as much as he would have liked returning from off-season shoulder surgery, but he’s made strides in those areas while averaging 31 minutes per outing.
Perkins gets a bit of a break in that Gonzaga has several players – Norvell, Hachimura, Kispert, even Clarke – who grab rebounds and are capable of bringing the ball down the floor.
There have been a few bouts with turnovers, but Perkins’ assist-to-turnover ratio is 3.5. Perkins doesn’t have to shoulder all of the distribution duties. Norvell is an excellent passer in the open court and working off ball screens; he’s averaging 3.7 assists and carries a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
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