There are limited conclusions that can be drawn from a pair of blowout wins, both against overmatched opponents.
But it’s safe to say Gonzaga point guard Ryan Woolridge and the collection of bigs are off to strong starts.
That’s encouraging since two of the biggest question marks surrounding Gonzaga entering the season centered on replacing point guard Josh Perkins and the forward tandem of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke.
Forwards Filip Petrusev, Anton Watson and Drew Timme put together another impressive performance as the eighth-ranked Zags crushed Arkansas-Pine Bluff 110-60 in nonconference play in front of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Woolridge deftly steered the offense – this time against UAPB’s game-long zone defense – with 14 points and nine assists.
“It makes it a whole lot easier,” Woolridge said of the Zags’ frontcourt, which will only get stronger when Killian Tillie returns after undergoing knee surgery last month. “I don’t have to rely on forcing it into the paint and creating something for other guards. You can dump it down to them and know you’re going to get an assist.”
Woolridge used his speed to do damage in transition, but he also was effective against the zone as the Zags had no problem finding open shots. He was responsible for nearly half of GU’s 56 first-half points with his scoring and six assists as the Zags built a 26-point lead.
Gonzaga will see more zone defenses – including Washington’s extended 2-3 – in the future.
“We’re going to be ready for all those different zones,” said Petrusev, who made 9 of 10 shots and scored a team-high 25 points. “We were ready for the one they had at the beginning. I saw two or three different zones, the 2-3 and the 1-3-1.”
Freshman Drew Timme had 15 points and six rebounds, and freshman Anton Watson added 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
The frontcourt is doing many of same things that made past collections of GU bigs so successful. They’re scoring on the low block, they’re capitalizing on early post-ups, they’re effective in high-low and they’re applying foul pressure on opposing bigs.
“That’s the reason why we came here, because we see guys like (Clarke and Hachimura) that were so successful and we want to be part of it,” Timme said. “The more comfortable we get in the system the more natural it becomes. So you can see us naturally looking high-low with more reps.”
Petrusev drew eight fouls and made 7 of 9 free throws. Timme was fouled five times and also was 7 of 9 at the line. Three UAPB forwards/centers picked up three fouls apiece in the opening half.
“Those are some of our principles,” Petrusev said. “In transition, the first thing we look for sometimes is going into the post, getting the big involved right away, especially if we have an advantage in there no matter if it’s the ‘4’ or ‘5.’
“That (high-low) is a second look, whenever there’s a big working for a touch or just if they’re fronting the post obviously we have that second action with the other big flashing up.”
Watson operates smoothly inside or outside at both ends of the floor. He had three steals in the first half, one he converted into a breakaway dunk that hiked Gonzaga’s lead to 43-22.
“He moves his feet really well, very handsy and anticipatory,” coach Mark Few said of the 6-foot-8 freshman. “We feel comfortable with him guarding perimeter and interior positions.
“It allows us to switch ball screens and do different coverages. It gives you a lot more options.”
The Golden Lions (1-1) ran short on options after having some early success against Gonzaga’s defense. UAPB made a handful of difficult, contested shots in the paint but was limited to 41 percent overall and two made 3-pointers.
The Zags’ defense cut down the number of breakdowns and 3-pointers allowed compared to Tuesday’s season opener against Alabama State.
“We were more solid, made them take tough 2s,” Woolridge said. “They made some very tough shots, but we played great defense as a team.”
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