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Gonzaga getting its point across with balanced attack to lead country in scoring

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 13, 2020

Gonzaga led the nation in scoring last year, and the Bulldogs are on pace to repeat this season with a 5.5-point per-game edge over second-place Dayton.

Same thing in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. The Zags were tops last year at 124.5 while the 2020 team leads at 120.8.

The Zags’ last two offenses average in the upper 80s, within a point of each other, but how they get there is decidedly different. Both teams lean on post players, but the current crew has a deeper pool of scoring options.

That sounds strange with No. 2 Gonzaga’s tight seven-man rotation, but consider all seven average in double figures. That’s never happened in program history. No other team in the country has six in double digits, and just 15 squads have five.

Those seven Zags have topped the 20-point mark at least once this season, which hasn’t happened at Gonzaga since its run to the 2017 national championship game. Freshman Drew Timme was the last to join the list when he scored 20 points in Saturday’s rout over Saint Mary’s.

Gonzaga always emphasizes post feeds, and sophomore post Filip Petrusev leads the way at 17.2 points. Corey Kispert is next at 13.8. Timme’s 18.7 average over the last three games has bumped his season average to 10.3.

Last year’s team had four players in double figures, led by the combined 36.6 points of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. The Zags went nine deep when Killian Tillie was healthy.

“There’s not a super dominant player or two,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “Filip scores the most, but even when BC and Rui were dominating, (Zach) Norvell was an elite scorer.

“This year’s team doesn’t have as much of that, just seven really, really good players. They can all score in a variety of ways, and they all complement each other. There’s not much overlap in what each guy does.”

A lot of numbers are adding up for the Zags. They’re third nationally in total assists, led by Ryan Woolridge’s 4.4 and Joel Ayayi’s 3.4. Bigs, counting Kispert on the wing, have contributed 183 of 447 assists, despite Tillie’s and Watson’s extended absences due to injuries.

Gonzaga is in the top 10 nationally in field-goal percentage (51.7, second), 3-point percentage (39.1, seventh) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.53, fourth).

“You have to play really fast and efficient to even get close (to having seven players in double figures),” Michaelson said. “You have to have an unselfish group and this group is probably near the top with that. You’re not going to have six or seven in double figures averaging 60 points. The (88.5 points per game) is a big part of it.”

Gonzaga’s offense typically ranks high nationally, but only two teams have had at least five double-figures scorers. The 2017 Zags had five, led by Nigel Williams-Goss at 16.8, and finished 37-2. The 2018 squad, paced by Johnathan Williams’ 13.4, nearly had six, but Silas Melson finished at 9.3. They went 32-5 and reached the Sweet 16.

Every other GU team from 1999 on has had three or four players average double figures.

Balanced scoring doesn’t always equate to 30-win seasons and deep NCAA Tournament runs. The 2008 Zags finished 25-9 and lost in the first round despite four players in double figures and four more between 6.0 and 8.7.

On the flip side, the 2013 Zags went 32-3 with just three players in double digits, led by Kelly Olynyk’s 17.8 points. They were third in KenPom at 120.5. Adam Morrison led the country in scoring at 28.1 as the Zags, with just two other players in double figures, reached the 2006 Sweet 16 and finished 29-4.

The obvious question with a balanced crew: Does Gonzaga have a go-to player in close games? A firm answer won’t be known until March, but the Zags have been balanced in that regard, too, albeit with a small sample size. The Zags have only had six games decided by fewer than 10 points, just four by five points or closer.

Tillie, Woolridge and Admon Gilder combined for 31 of GU’s 44 second-half points in a 72-66 win over UT Arlington. Kispert had two 3-pointers late in regulation against Oregon. Petrusev scored four points, Ayayi had a layup and Timme broke a tie with a free throw with 20.6 seconds left in overtime.

Tillie and Ayayi buried clutch 3s as Gonzaga held off Washington 83-76. The Zags coughed up most of a 16-point lead in the final 2:15, but Woolridge hit two free throws with 1.7 seconds left in an 84-80 win over Arizona.

Tillie had key baskets and Ayayi added a late 3 in a five-point win over Pepperdine. Kispert lifted the Zags to an 83-79 road win over USF with two baskets, including a three-point play, in the final 93 seconds.

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