When the beholder is ESPN’s Jay Bilas, there is a certain beauty he appreciates in this year’s Gonzaga basketball team.
It’s simple. Or as Bilas, who would describe the game with Dan Shulman, said before Thursday night’s 87-65 rout of Saint Mary’s at the McCarthey Athletic Center, “Where they have set themselves apart is on the offensive end.”
The top-ranked Bulldogs then went out and proved Bilas’ point for him.
What they saw …
• For much of the game, the Zags (21-0 overall, 12-0 in West Coast Conference play) dissected a usually perplexing Saint Mary’s defense. Cuts, screens, drives, passes, everything Mark Few’s team has done as well as, or better than, anyone in college hoops. The Bulldogs led by as many as 38 in the second half.
“That’s just beautiful, beautiful basketball,” is how Bilas continually described Gonzaga’s offense, all the while not forgetting to point out how well the Zags have been playing on the other end.
“It’s just so fun to watch the Zags run offense,” Bilas said late before giving the viewers a history lesson on Gonzaga offensive basketball, from the flex offense to the flow they have in this unprecedented season.
• Bilas is also impressed with the talent Few has amassed.
“Is there a chance we are looking at a college team with five NBA players?” Shulman asked.
“Yes,” Bilas answered succinctly.
He mentioned Corey Kispert, of course, as well as Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and the much-improved Andrew Nembhard. But he saved much of his praise for Joel Ayayi as the guard was en route to a 16-point, six-rebound game.
“When you say Joel Ayayi is your fourth-best player,” Bilas noted, “you’re the best team in the country.”
• Bilas also found some beauty in the game of the Zags’ lone Spokane high school product, Anton Watson. And not just the flashy parts.
“I’m impressed with Anton Watson,” Bilas said as the first half wound down. “He’s athletic. He’s physical. He rebounds. He’s got a good skill level. We’ve already seen him finish above the rim. But he’s also willing to defend.
“He knows Gonzaga has a lot of scorers,” continued Bilas as the Gonzaga Prep graduate was shooting free throws, “and he’s willing to do the ‘dirty work’ to be able to fit in and be a great teammate.”
The above-the-rim play Bilas referred to came 8 minutes into the game and was part of the halftime highlight package.
Watson slipped a screen, caught Suggs’ pass and hammered it down one-handed. It was much more impressive than his well-trimmed new beard.
And for the first time this year, his family was at the Kennel to see it. In fact, parents Deon and Anna were featured in the stands coming out of the under-4-minute timeout.
What we saw …
• Not to say Bilas, the former Duke star, doesn’t make a mistake now and again. Everyone does.
At one point in the first half, he and Shulman were having one of their many conversations that wasn’t all that tied to the game – it was about a 20-point lead at that point, so it’s understandable. But Bilas saw something that he wanted to talk about.
It concerned a whistle from referee David Hall.
“(Matthias) Tass just had a horrible foul called on him in the offensive end,” Bilas said about 20 seconds after Aaron Cook had been knocked to the ground. “He had the ball in his hands and the defender ran into him. That’s not an offensive foul.”
Maybe Bilas, watching in Charlotte, North Carolina, missed Tass’ reverse pivot, which took his backside directly into Cook’s path as Cook tried to stick with the cutter. That’s an offensive foul.
Later, though, Bilas made a good point after another offensive foul call and how that call is causing problems for the game.
Ayayi picked up a charge from Kyle Bowen early in the second half by moving his feet and accepting contact with his chest. It was the type of play Bilas said the college game needs to “value.”
He’s right. And he’s right about the overabundance of charge calls earned by secondary defenders sliding under driving players, saying, “I happen to believe it’s starting to hurt the game.”
• Making a Gonzaga broadcast bingo card is certainly easy this year, especially when ESPN is involved.
Timme’s mustache has its space, as does Suggs’ football background. The most recent undefeated college team, Indiana in 1976, and the comparison has to be considered. That and more were checked off in this one.
Bilas and Shulman spoke often about Timme’s beard and mustache. They wondered if the mustache has a Twitter account (there is one about it) and how it might compare to one of Bilas’ favorites, the account dedicated to Przemek Karnowski’s beard.
When the contest is over by halftime (or before), bingo might just be the better game.
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