On Gonzaga’s first possession, freshman forward Anton Watson took a pass at the top of the key, 23 feet from the hoop. North Dakota defender Kienan Walter stood on the West Coast Conference logo in the lane, about 14 feet from the hoop.
Watson missed the open 3-pointer but chased down the rebound, leading to Corey Kispert’s 3.
It was one of numerous defensive tactics North Dakota employed, often without success, in GU’s 97-66 blowout victory Tuesday. There will be much more where that came from.
UND intentionally sagged off Watson, giving up an open shot to clog up the lane and discourage passes into the post.
Watson missed both of his 3-point attempts. Filip Petrusev misfired on an open 18-footer early on while his defender stayed back near the paint and later on a 3-pointer.
But both players understood what UND was attempting to do, made adjustments and went to work closer to the basket, combining for 34 points and 23 rebounds.
“If they’re going to give me that space, I’m just going to go at them,” Watson said. “They were trying to sag off me and not let me get the ball to Filip, but we still got the ball to Filip.”
The Fighting Hawks tried doubling Petrusev in the second half, and he zipped passes to Watson for easy buckets.
“We saw doubles, we saw (North Dakota) totally insult our guys and play off of them,” GU head coach Mark Few said. UND “was sagging and tempting us with the early 3. The guys did a good job of taking 3s when they were there, but also mixing it up and getting paint touches.”
The frontcourt foursome of Petrusev, Watson, Drew Timme and Killian Tillie (when he returns from knee surgery) will see a variety of coverages, including interior-minded zones, just as past combos of Brandon Clarke-Rui Hachimura, Domantas Sabonis-Kyle Wiltjer and the quartet of Przemek Karnowski, Johnathan Williams, Zach Collins and Tillie encountered during their careers.
Meanwhile, opponents likely will apply heat via full-court pressure and half-court attention on Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder, trying to wear down the duo as the Zags deal with limited guard and ball-handling depth. Woolridge has a heavy workload, defending the opponent’s top perimeter threat in addition to doing most of the ball-handling.
Filip vs. Filip
Petrusev was matched up against North Dakota counterpart Filip Rebraca. Both are Serbian big men, but the first time they met was Tuesday.
Rebraca played well with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but Petrusev produced 19 points, 15 boards and four blocks, including a couple against his countryman.
Petrusev did see a familiar face in UND reserve forward Marko Coudreau, who is from France. The two chatted for several minutes in warm-ups.
“I see him almost every summer, so he’s a good friend. His dad is Serbian,” Petrusev said. “I met the other Filip tonight. His dad (Zeljko) is a legend. He played in the league (NBA).”
Good D, some bad D
Gonzaga’s defensive numbers were solid, limiting the Fighting Hawks to 35% shooting and 22.6% behind the arc. The Zags gave up a season-high 66 points after yielding 60 to Alabama State and 64 to Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
But the concentration lapses were back as the Zags offered great defensive stretches followed by head-scratching ones. The Zags got lost a couple of times in the first half as UND guard Marlon Stewart worked off ball screens.
“They ran some good stuff and the point guard was a good decision-maker,” Few said. “Our low-post defense was really good because they really like to feed the post. For the most part, we did a good job keeping the ball out. Again, we had a couple breakdowns. We got better at it in the last game, but we kind of took a step back with some of our switch packages, so we have some things to work on.”
The Zags closed off the lane on Stewart’s dribble penetration in the closing half.
“He was getting some big lanes, probably freeway wide,” Few said. “We did a good job of shrinking with our perimeters and our bigs were way too soft in the first half rotating over and protecting the rim. We did a better job in the second half.”
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