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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV Take: CBS crew finds beauty everywhere in Gonzaga’s romp over Virginia

Dec. 26, 2020 Updated Sat., Dec. 26, 2020 at 9:42 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1), who leads the West Coast Conference in steals, is a top candidate for defensive player of the year.  (Courtesy of Gregg Ellman)
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1), who leads the West Coast Conference in steals, is a top candidate for defensive player of the year. (Courtesy of Gregg Ellman)
By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

CBS didn’t get to broadcast a scheduled early season showdown between No. 1 Gonzaga and second-ranked Baylor after COVID-19 intervened. The network’s make-good? The Zags’ 98-75 rout of 16th-ranked Virginia.

Saturday may not have matched GU against the best team in Texas, but at least it was played in the state (Fort Worth) and before a few fans.

Not in Texas, however, was the broadcast team, Tom McCarthy on play-by-play and veteran Bill Raftery supplying the analysis.

What they saw …

The game was billed as a contrast in styles, which it was. But it was only Gonzaga – which features the nation’s most efficient offense, according to the ratings – that was able to get both to play its style for extended periods. As Raftery noted more than once.

“Seldom do you see a team that controls tempo as good as Virginia (4-2) unable to contest (shots and get) stops,” he said as Gonzaga (7-0) built its largest lead (at that point), 24 points, early in the second half.

Then he explained why, citing the Cavaliers’ offense as part of the culprit.

“Bad shots, on occasion, and turnovers lead to run outs,” he explained.

But there was no dearth of praise for Mark Few’s team either, which played well enough to drop Virginia’s defense from fourth in the Kenpom rating to 10th.

“They are so unselfish,” he said at one point. “It’s beautiful.”

Later, Raftery emphasized an area in which he really believes GU shines.

“What impresses you with this team is they don’t take bad shots,” he said just before the Zags’ began subbing deeply after building a 33-point advantage.

How did he feel about the Zags’ performance?

“Boy, impressive,” Raftery said as the final buzzer sounded.

Yes, Raftery was right. Gonzaga’s offense was beautiful in this one. What wasn’t was the technique CBS seems to be employing more often this season.

McCarthy and Raftery were not in Fort Worth, broadcasting the game remotely. That can be expected in this COVID-19 day. Especially with Raftery, at age 77, in a high-risk category.

But there is no excuse for having a prerecorded halftime show that never once mentioned the game in progress. The late scheduling of a game the day after Christmas might be an excuse, but with CBS’ resources and reputation, you would have to believe someone could have been available for a live halftime show.

Raftery and McCarthy had some fun with Drew Timme’s Texas homecoming trip. And his parents, Megan and Matt, who made the short trip to join the small crowd.

There were many shots of the couple in the stands and some joking interplay about mom’s recent criticism of her son’s mustache.

Then again, Raftery wasn’t going to let the fake mustache she wore on her mask – think the mustaches Washington State distributed during Gardner Minshew’s Heisman campaign – pass without analysis.

To paraphrase Raftery, it wasn’t beautiful.

What we saw …

As the Zags were running out to and early lead, Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s shoulders got a workout.

Every time Gonzaga reversed the ball two or three times, made two or three crisp passes and ended up with an easy bucket, Bennett’s shoulders fell. As did his visage. It was a response Washington State fans rarely saw in his three years in Pullman.

Until the final minute or so of the first half, with Timme and Suggs on the bench, the Cavaliers couldn’t string together stops, something they take pride in – and rely on.

At that point, the Bulldogs had shot around 60% against a team that has limited opponents to 36% .

The better defensive team in the first half? Heck, throughout? That would be Gonzaga.

It didn’t matter that the Cavaliers shot nearly 50% from the floor. What mattered was the Zags forced more turnovers in the first half – nine – than Virginia usually yields in 40 minutes – 8.4. That led to 19 GU points. Those numbers ended up 15 and 27.

“You just can’t make mistakes (against Gonzaga),” Raftery said at one point, before adding, “What’s overshadowed (by their efficient offense) is their defense.”

Raftery covered a few games when Bennett was in Pullman and has been a fixture recently on Gonzaga’s games outside of the Northwest. So he is aware of the relationship between Few and Bennett.

And, even more so, he’s well aware of their basketball credentials.

“Two of the premier coaches in the country on the sidelines,” he said, “and two different philosophies.”

In this one, it was obvious which philosophy had the upper hand.

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