Gonzaga rewind: Blowouts give younger Zags extended playing time
Dec. 30, 2020 Updated Wed., Dec. 30, 2020 at 9:34 p.m.
Oumar Ballo couldn’t miss, Ben Gregg made his Gonzaga debut, and several of the youngest Zags logged season-high minutes.
Gonzaga’s string of five consecutive blowouts, including a 112-67 rout of Dixie State on Tuesday and an 88-58 win over Northern Arizona on Monday, resulted in extended minutes for numerous players who had been seeing limited court time.
Those minutes are valuable for reserves and for the coaching staff to monitor the practice progression of players in a game setting.
Ballo, a redshirt freshman center from Mali, was 6 of 6 from the field. He scored on the low block, once with a bank shot over a defender and on another finish through contact. He had a nice baseline spin move to draw a foul against a double team. He scored 17 points in 13 minutes.
Ballo’s development is important as a back-up to starter Drew Timme, who has occasionally been in foul trouble. The 7-foot, 260-pound Ballo has the frame, but needs experience to become a defensive presence inside, rim protector and rebounder.
Freshmen Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris scored eight points apiece against Dixie State. Harris had five rebounds and three assists, but misfired on all four 3-point attempts. Strawther was 3 of 5 from the field and grabbed two boards.
“Oumar was 6 for 6, Dom was super aggressive, so was Julian,” senior wing Corey Kispert said. “That’s the thing, you have to get in there and you have to be super aggressive. That’s your time to get yourself going. I was in the same shoes my freshman year in spurts.
“It’s not an easy thing to come in and not have the success you’re used to. That kind of happens to everybody. Those guys have stuck to it and been super positive and come to practice every day like professionals. I’m really happy to see them succeed, especially ‘Big O.’ He was awesome.”
Eleven of Pavel Zakharov’s 16 minutes this season and 10 of Martynas Arlauskas’ 13 came in Monday’s and Tuesday’s games. The sophomores combined for five points.
Gregg, who graduated early from high school and arrived on campus Dec. 19, played the last four minutes.
“He’s just barely scratching the surface of learning everything we’re doing defensively and offensively,” coach Mark Few said of Gregg. “Hopefully, we can slide him into more games. He’s a quick learner.
“Hopefully, during this process we continue to get him stronger. … I think he’ll do wonders with (strength and conditioning coach) Travis (Knight) in the strength and conditioning area.”
Few had mixed reviews for the reserves after Monday’s win. Harris was 0 of 3 from deep but scored 12 points. Ballo had five points but picked up four fouls in 12 minutes. Strawther missed all three of his 3-point attempts but finished with five rebounds and two points.
“There was some good moments,” Few said. “We’re still maybe missing some where we’re not quite listening to the plan coming out of timeouts, or there’s attention to detail we’re missing that we’re pretty demanding of. But they played with good energy and they’re flying around and they’re taking the right shots.
“They’re still a little hyped up, a little excited and they kind of need to slow down on some of their finishes. We actually were trying early on in both halves to make sure some of them got some run with the main group. It’s easier when they’re with that main group (because) things are flowing a little bit better.”
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