TV Take: Bill Walton’s thoughts wandered, found way back to court late as Gonzaga holds off challenge from Washington
Dec. 8, 2019 Updated Sun., Dec. 8, 2019 at 10:25 p.m.
It was obvious Sunday that the Gonzaga Bulldogs had a point – or points – to make in their 83-76 victory over host Washington, the Zags’ sixth consecutive win over the Huskies.
It was also obvious that Bill Walton had a lot of points to make, though the analyst, working for ESPN2 on this night, rarely made them about basketball. At least the game occurring in front of him.
What they saw …
• We’ve said this many times before, but Walton is one of college basketball’s most perceptive analysts – when he focuses on the game. But even with Roxy Bernstein trying to corral Walton’s always wandering focus, the big redhead covered such items as the Washington ferry system, Northwest author Timothy Egan, undisclosed rankings of states, Danny Ainge’s golf scores, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper and Bernstein’s rotator cuff problem.
The game? It seemed to be as important as art on the wall in an exercise room.
As it came down to the wire, Walton focused on Killian Tillie’s efforts, which included a 29-footer with 3 minutes left as the shot clock wound down.
“Killian Tillie’s everywhere,” Walton said, calling him the player of the game more than once.
And when Joel Ayayi hit another long, shot-clock-beating 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, sealing the win, Walton compared the pass fake to Larry Bird.
• Bernstein and the guys in the truck tried to cover some of the more pertinent items, one of which was the height and length of the 22nd-ranked Huskies (7-2).
The visual used? Five Washington players holding their arms out, touching fingertips and almost across the entire court.
Bernstein kept us informed of what was going on, as Walton spoke of medals and rings and such.
Walton’s best line? It came after Tillie had attacked the rim and was fouled with about 9 minutes remaining.
“If you go with a sense of authority, power and confidence,” Walton said during the replay, “you’re either going to deliver or you’re going to get to the foul line – or go to the hospital.”
• As to the basketball, Walton is enamored with the way ninth-ranked Gonzaga plays, especially on the offensive end.
“I love the way Gonzaga passes the ball,” he said as the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) made seven passes – all five players touched it – en route to a short jumper.
He called the Zags “the standard bearers of excellence in the West” and said “Gonzaga has the best program in the West.”
Gonzaga’s Admon Gilder (1) and Washington’s Jamal Bey eye a loose ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
What we saw …
• “This has been a magnificent game,” Walton said about 12 minutes in – on the heels of not sharing a word about the “magnificent game.”
OK, he had just spent the past 10 minutes sharing a touching and heartfelt tribute to Bill Russell, the best defensive center to play the game. The story included mentions of Walton’s mom, a library book and basketball’s Hall of Fame.
It was worth hearing, but the game, with its up-and-down tempo, high flights and excellent passing, was also worth commenting on.
• Speaking of tempo, Seth Greenberg seemed to not understand Mark Few’s love of it.
Speaking at halftime, Greenberg, the former Virginia Tech coach, said the game was being played at “Washington’s pace. Washington wants to get up and down.”
And Gonzaga doesn’t? Of course the Zags do, and have since Few took over more than 20 years ago. In fact, even with one of his bigger teams, Gonzaga, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical website, averages about one fewer offensive possession than UW, adjusted for the opponent.
The key matchup …
• Isaiah Stewart is only a freshman, but the 6-foot-9 post is not only the Huskies’ leading scorer, he also is their top rebounder. He was both in this game as well, despite Filip Petrusev’s presence inside.
Stewart finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but did not touch the ball in the final minutes as Gonzaga put it away.
Petrusev also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
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