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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-UCLA takeaways: Zags’ defense making big strides

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 24, 2021

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and UCLA’s Tyger Campbell dive for a loose ball during Tuesday’s highly anticipated game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and UCLA’s Tyger Campbell dive for a loose ball during Tuesday’s highly anticipated game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga’s 83-63 blowout over No. 2 UCLA on Tuesday added to its growing list of victories over ranked opponents.

The Zags have won 12 of their past 13 against ranked foes, the lone loss coming to Baylor in last season’s NCAA title game. Gonzaga has won 12 in a row against Pac-12 teams by an average of 13 points. A GU win against No. 5 Duke on Friday would give the Zags three top-five wins in November, matching the 2012-13 Blue Devils for the most in the AP poll era (1948-49).

Tuesday’s performance showed off the Zags’ improving defense, Drew Timme’s gains on defense and the many reasons NBA scouts are enamored with 7-foot Chet Holmgren.

More in our three takeaways from the GU-UCLA game.

Delivering defense

Scanning Gonzaga’s statistics, it’s easy to go first to the offensive categories. GU is averaging 91.5 points, 19 assists and hitting 55.6% of its shots.

Move over to the defensive column and they’re equally as impressive. Gonzaga is holding opponents to 60.2 points, 37.3% shooting, 29.1% behind the 3-point arc and swatting away 5.8 shots per game.

Defense was at the forefront as Gonzaga constructed a 33-10 lead over the Bruins.

UCLA only had eight turnovers, but each one provided fuel for Gonzaga’s transition game. More often, the Bruins missed a contested shot and the Zags were off and running the other direction.

“That 2017 year we were No. 1 in the country all year in DER (defensive efficiency rating),” coach Mark Few said. “It was a great team because we had rim protection and guards that would come down and rebound, guards that were physical and could guard their yard.

“It’s too early to make proclamations like that, but I would say I’m encouraged with the last couple games because we’ve had two halves of defense where prior to that we just had one.”

Versatile bigs

Timme and Holmgren combined for six blocked shots. They were effective guarding on the perimeter and in the paint, which is obviously important when GU switches on screens.

Holmgren matched up against 6-10, 255-pound Myles Johnson while Timme defended 6-7 Jaime Jaquez Jr., an accomplished scorer. Jaquez heated up in the second half to finish with 19 points, but he made just 7 of 22 shots. Johnson was limited to seven points.

“That’s actually one of the reasons Drew came back (for his junior year),” Few said. “Everybody wants to focus on shooting 3s and all that, but I think what he’s shown is he can really move his feet and guard. I think that’s all he really needs to show people because he can score on anybody.

“He was severely tested on that (because) Jaquez is an outstanding downhill driver, great footwork almost like Drew in there with his pivots and fakes. We’re growing that package with Chet a little bit. He’s moving his feet much better than he did a month or so ago.”

Holmgren made two 3-pointers and all four of his attempts inside the arc. He finished with 15 points and six rebounds.

“We’ve been around him every day working,” Timme said of Holmgren. “This is a shock to none of us. This is what we expect of him and he expects that from himself. He’s just one of a kind.”

WCC’s strong start

The WCC has five undefeated teams – Gonzaga, BYU, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara and San Francisco – with a combined record of 27-0 through Tuesday’s games. BYU and Saint Mary’s have posted convincing wins over Oregon.

Gonzaga is No. 1 in KenPom’s ratings. BYU is 27, Saint Mary’s 36, San Francisco 38 and Santa Clara 72.

“One of the things that irritates me the most is everybody assumes we’re just going to roll through conference undefeated every year,” Few said. “There are just some excellent coaches in this league. (SMC’s) Randy Bennett is a great coach. What you’re seeing is now these teams are getting into the MTEs (multiteam events) and some of these tournaments … and showing what they’re capable of.

“Coming off COVID last year, our league is one of those leagues that has a ton of these super seniors, so this is an old league. We’re the only ones that don’t have any. My guys get tired of me and leave. That’s really big this year. That’s going to be a huge factor as far as who makes the NCAA Tournament and the teams that can post the type of resumes that are worthy.”

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