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TV Take: Gonzaga opens season with familiar faces taking center stage in win over Alabama State

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 5, 2019

Another Gonzaga basketball season began Tuesday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Much of the 2019-20 season opener against visiting Alabama State was familiar, from the sellout crowd to head coach Mark Few’s presence on the sideline to the winning team.

Oh, and for the 31st consecutive year, the Bulldogs won their home opener, this one 95-64 over the Hornets.

And no, Greg Heister and Richard Fox haven’t teamed on the KHQ broadcast that entire time, though it’s starting to seem like it.

What they saw …

• One of the strengths of the local broadcasts is its familiarity with the Gonzaga players, year after year. Nothing shows that better than its ability to identify early season changes in players’ abilities.

Case in point? Filip Petrusev.

The 6-foot-11 sophomore post is more athletic than he was last year. Heister pointed that out early, then did the right thing: He opened the door for Fox to explain why.

Fox pointed out that in the spring, Petrusev had entered his name into the NBA’s predraft program, which allowed for some input from professional evaluators, then pointed to Petrusev’s international commitments over the summer.

That sort of interaction doesn’t happen without some expertise grounded in long-term experience.

In the second half, when Corey Kispert hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night, Heister mentioned how Kispert’s on-court demeanor seemed to have changed since last season. It was a good point that only someone with a history would know.

Kispert finished as the game’s leading scorer, hitting 10 of 13 shots, including 5 of 6 from beyond the lengthened 3-point arc. The junior had a career-high 28 points.

• Fox has shown over recent years that he’s good at breaking down what Gonzaga is trying to do, bouncing ideas off analysis partner Dan Dickau, who was not working this game.

One of his strengths is his ability to share his excitement succinctly. When Kispert threw down a one-handed transition dunk with more than 13 minutes left, all Fox said was, “That’s awesome.” The tone of his voice made it clear just how awesome.

But he’s not always perfect – at least in the short run. As eighth-ranked Gonzaga built a double-digit first-half lead, Fox commented on the Zags’ turnover-forcing defense.

“This is the end of the floor where Gonzaga could be special this year,” Fox said.

Yes, the Bulldogs forced 12 first-half turnovers, leading to 14 points. But Alabama State shot 52% from the field, a percentage that special defensive teams don’t allow.

The second half, however, might have proved Fox’s point. When the Hornets cut GU’s lead to nine with 17 minutes left, Gonzaga’s defense tightened up and the Zags pulled away. Alabama State ended up shooting 49%, including 9 of 16 3-pointers.

What we saw …

• One thing KHQ tries to do is to immerse the local GU fan in the McCarthey experience. One way is to emphasize crowd noise, which has been so integral to the Zags’ success over the years. But Tuesday night the volume was at 11, when it would have served the viewer better it had been at 8 or 9.

At times, it was possible to hear individual conversations going on in the student section behind Heister and Fox. The voices intruded on their commentary. And when the duo was interviewing assistant coach Brian Michaelson as halftime began, it was hard to hear their questions due to the sound of GU’s pep band.

The key matchup …

• Before each game, Spokesman-Review writer Jim Meehan identifies a key matchup that may be crucial to the outcome. Before the opener, he highlighted the play of two guards, Alabama State’s Jacoby Ross and Gonzaga’s Ryan Woolridge.

In a strange way, it did have an oversized impact on the score, though Woolridge rarely guarded Alabama State’s leading returning scorer. That duty fell mostly to Admon Gilder, like Woolridge a senior transfer, and sophomore Joel Ayayi. They did a good job early keeping Ross out of the key and, after 6 minutes, coach Lewis Jackson sat the then-scoreless junior.

In the 7 minutes he sat in the first half, GU outscored the Hornets 15-4, which was basically the halftime edge. Ross got going in the second half and finished with a team-high 16 points, including four 3-pointers.

Woolridge hit his first five shots, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

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