Two important things happened in Gonzaga’s 72-66 victory Tuesday night over visiting Texas Arlington: Killian Tillie returned to the court after his knee surgery and the eighth-ranked Zags were tested.
Big time could describe both.
The importance of each was pointed out by the local crew on KHQ, although the former was a quick hit while the latter wore on throughout Gonzaga’s hard-earned victory.
What they saw …
• UT Arlington had a game plan and, as analysts Richard Fox and Dan Dickau pointed out, the Mavericks executed it.
It started with transition defense, sending all five players back so that Gonzaga’s fastbreak game was slowed to a crawl. It included hardly guarding some Zags on the perimeter, most notably point guard Ryan Woolridge, although Filip Petrusev and Anton Watson as well. And it added a level of physicality Gonzaga hasn’t faced at home much.
It worked. For a while.
“It’s interesting (that) for the first time all year somebody has really tweaked the scouting report against Gonzaga,” Dickau said just a couple of minutes in as UTA took the lead while the Bulldogs struggled on offense.
“When you send all five guys back, it makes it difficult,” to get easy baskets, Dickau said.
“They’re not sending anyone to the offensive glass,” said Fox of the Mavericks (2-3 including a recent 20-point loss at Oregon), who finished with a single offensive rebound. “They just don’t give up anything easy.”
The sagging defense also caused GU (5-0) problems in the first half, a half the Zags led by just one after shooting 34%. The Mavericks didn’t guard Woolridge, who struggled early but ended up with a game-high 19 points, in the half court.
“(They are) daring Woolridge to shoot from the perimeter,” Dickau said.
The Mavericks, who clogged the lane, weren’t going to back down against the bigger Bulldogs. The officials, Greg Nixon, Sir Allen Conner and Mark Cook, didn’t seem to want to interfere.
They called five fouls in the first half.
• “Welcome back Killian Tillie.”
It may have been Fox saying that in the final 3 minutes after an acrobatic play, but it could have been any Gonzaga fan any time Tuesday.
Tillie, who had knee surgery in early October, returned with 15 points and eight rebounds.
What we saw …
• The tenor of the game changed after halftime, but it had its roots in the end of the first.
That’s when Woolridge scored the Zags’ final five points, the last two on a buzzer-beating drive. The senior transfer guard, who played at North Texas last season, then stared at UTA coach Chris Ogden as he headed back to the bench.
That led to some words from other UTA coaches and some talking with the officials. It also led to the three officials talking for a while at midcourt before heading to the locker room.
When both teams came out they were greeted with whistles. Twenty-eight of them.
• Want a blast-from-the-past comparison? Greg Heister supplied it in the first half. He compared the Mavericks to the Washington State teams under the Bennetts.
He was right – on both ends.
UT Arlington not only limited the Zags to 39% shooting (22 behind the arc), by quite a bit the worst shooting of the season, but it also used a time-consuming motion offense.
It may not have been the Bennett’s blocker-mover sets, but it was close. And it forced Gonzaga to play a tempo it hadn’t experienced this season.
The key matchup …
• Coming in, it seemed as if it would be UTA’s leading scorer David Azore against Admon Gilder, but the way the Mavericks decided to defend, it turned out to be Woolridge against Brian Warren.
Warren played a one-man zone in the key from the opening tip, allowing Woolridge any shot he wanted. For a while it seemed to be the right move. But, as Fox said, “He’s taking it personally and he should.”
Woolridge not only had the 19 points, but he added nine rebounds.
On the other end, it was Warren who controlled the tempo for UTA at the point. He added 15 points, just one behind 6-foot-9 3-point shooting specialist Jabari Narcis for team honors.
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