Gonzaga took the opportunity in Friday’s exhibition game to exhibit a defensive wrinkle that opponents can expect to see the rest of the season.
The three-quarters-court press is nothing new for the Zags, but they unveiled it with new personnel in a 116-61 rout over Lewis-Clark State College at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
It turned a reasonably close game in the first 6 minutes and 30 seconds into a blowout in short order. Within seconds of applying the press, freshman forward Anton Watson, working at the top of the 1-2-2, picked off a pass and scored on a layup.
LCSC committed three straight turnovers, all converted into GU field goals. Later, the 6-foot-8 Watson had two more steals as Gonzaga’s lead grew from 21-13 to 39-13 in roughly 3 minutes.
The press rattled the Warriors, but it also forces opponents to burn time off the 30-second shot clock before setting up their offense. On one play, LCSC successfully reached the offensive end only to have Watson poke the ball loose near the 3-point line. Gonzaga took possession and Watson dished to Joel Ayayi for a 3-pointer.
“Even in high school (at Gonzaga Prep) we noticed he has great hands, some great anticipatory skills, so it’s great to have a guy like that that you can play up front on a press,” coach Mark Few said of Watson. “But then we also have some guys like Admon (Gilder) and Ryan (Woolridge) that will break on balls that maybe we haven’t had in the past. That’s nice also.”
Watson is playing the spot in the press that Rui Hachimura often handled over the last two seasons.
“They like to put me at the top of the press because I have the defensive IQ, long arms,” Watson said. “I don’t know if my AAU coach (Zag legend John Stockton) talked to coach (Few), but they put me at the top and I like it there, getting deflections, steals.”
Watson’s length also forced a turnover on an LCSC inbounds pass under the Warriors’ basket. The pass sailed over the intended target and led to an easy layup at the other end.
Gonzaga collected 18 steals, led by Ayayi’s four.
Many in the crowd and on media row did a double-take when walk-on Will Graves subbed in late in the second half. Graves wasn’t listed on the roster or game notes, but he’s apparently been with the team from the outset.
Graves is the son of former Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves, now the head coach at Oregon. Kelly was in attendance and true to his coaching nature, posted a video on twitter with the hashtag “ProudDad” of Will contesting a 3-point shot and then launching one of his own that was just off target. The coach later tweeted he was “nervous as heck” watching from the stands.
Graves, wearing No. 35, logged 5 minutes. The 6-4 guard played at South Eugene High. He averaged 6.6 points as a part-time starter as a freshman last season at Eugene’s Lane Community College.
Kelly Graves guided Oregon to the Final Four last year and the Ducks are No. 1 in the preseason AP poll for the first time in school history.
Lewis-Clark State College second-year coach Austin Johnson offered to do double-duty Friday – guide his Warriors and tweet in-game updates – in response to a tweet by Stadium’s Jeff Goodman that there should be at least one big-boy game each day of college basketball’s opening week.
“You’ve got a tremendous Nov. 1 game to kick things off with two Top 25 heavyweight teams going at it in Spokane,” Johnson tweeted at Goodman. “If interested, I can send you updates during our timeouts.”
Goodman didn’t reply, but that didn’t stop Johnson from tweeting about 30 minutes after his NAIA 23rd-ranked Warriors lost by 55 to No. 8 Gonzaga: “They were pretty good.”
Students line up
for UNC tickets
The Kennel Club was packed for the exhibition game and, contrary to many others in the 6,000-seat arena, stayed until the final buzzer of the blowout.
The students had added motivation to hang around: prized tickets to the Dec. 18 showdown against North Carolina. The athletic department tweaked the distribution process with the first opportunity for UNC tickets coming immediately after Friday’s exhibition game. Students also were required to attend last Sunday’s ticket distribution for the LCSC game and Tuesday’s season opener versus Alabama State.
The Gonzaga-North Carolina game is during the holiday break, but the Kennel Club’s presence figures to be strong, judging by lengthy lines for tickets long after Friday’s final buzzer.
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