After waiting a while to play its WCC opener, Gonzaga wasted little time Saturday roughing up the visiting Pepperdine Waves.
It was another example of Gonzaga managing to remain sharp, reminiscent of last season, after COVID-19 protocols scuttled three straight conference games and interrupted the Zags’ practice schedule after thumping North Alabama on Dec. 28.
Players trained via Zoom. A handful would gather to sharpen skills in the gym while another group was putting in time elsewhere. They spent extended time on cardio workouts, attempting to stay in game condition.
“Disjointed,” coach Mark Few said of the team’s COVID pause that essentially ended Thursday when they had held a full team workout. “You really can’t work on much of anything except individual skills because you’re separated.”
More on the team’s approach to the 10 days between games, Few’s thoughts on rescheduling and the possibility of facing Kentucky and Chet Holmgren’s improvement in our Gonzaga-Pepperdine takeaways.
Junior forward Drew Timme said the Zags did a little of everything and a “lot of running” to make sure they were ready for Saturday’s game.
“It’s a serious thing,” Timme said of COVID. “So we try to go by the book and make sure that we do our time without infecting anyone else and make sure we’re good to go. Go and get checked out to make sure our heart and lungs are all good.”
Players did Zoom workouts directed by strength and conditioning coach Travis Knight and some Peleton sessions. “Those aren’t a joke,” Timme said. “They get your heart rate up.”
The Zags generally use the holiday break to take a short rest from basketball before finding time to add new wrinkles to the playbook.
“Usually over Christmas break with no school, you can really fine-tune your offense and your defense, put in new things, different schemes and work on end-of-game stuff,” Few said. “You really lose that whole two to three weeks. This (time), a lot more individual work.”
Timme acknowledged fine-tuning his video-game technique.
“A lot of thumb work on the Xbox,” he said.
WCC rescheduling and Kentucky
Gonzaga probably will be facing a couple of three-game weeks when the WCC reschedules games, but Few hopes there’s room for at least one nonconference matchup.
Few and Kentucky counterpart John Calipari talk frequently, and a potential GU-Kentucky showdown was one of the topics.
“Obviously we’ll always be looking and actively looking to do something like that,” Few said. “I think our guys would like to do that, I would like to do that. We’ll see if we can make it feasible. It takes a lot. It was great to see San Francisco and Loyola Chicago play (Thursday in Salt Lake City). That was really a wise move.”
All seven WCC games were postponed on the opening weekend (Dec. 30, Jan. 1) due to COVID issues.
“I think the most important thing quite frankly for our league is we have this once-in-32-year shot at advancing four teams (to the NCAA Tournament),” said Few, referring to his 32 seasons as a GU assistant and head coach. “So that needs to be our highest priority, making sure we get those games and those games are in the proper time where teams are rested and ready to play and not just shoving other games in.”
Holmgren taking strides forward
After the frontcourt of Chet Holmgren, Anton Watson and Timme worked over Pepperdine, Holmgren was asked about the unit’s potential for the rest of the season.
“A lot of great things,” the freshman said after the trio combined for 55 points, 20 rebounds, six steals, five assists and four blocks. “We got a great frontcourt.”
Timme, seated next to Holmgren at the interview table, chimed in, “What a tricky trio, man.”
“The real tricky trio,” added Holmgren, drawing confirmation from Timme. Those were light-hearted references to the self-dubbed ‘tricky trio’ nickname of Jalen Suggs, Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris, cornerstones of Gonzaga’s 2020 recruiting class.
Holmgren, who played with Suggs on high school and AAU teams, had 18 points and eight boards against the Waves.
According to Bart Torvik’s analytics website, Holmgren is the only player of 1,388 nationally with 25 or more shots at the rim against Division I opponents shooting at least 90%. Holmgren converted one of his misses from close range Saturday into a putback basket.
Holmgren is No. 2 and Timme No. 3 in player rankings on Evan Miyakawa’s analytics website. Kofi Cockburn of Illinois is No. 1.
Holmgren’s numbers aside, Few said, “he’s doing more of the things that he and I have talked about, he’s a little quicker into his moves and a little quicker into his decisions. He’s been pretty darn solid defensively for this first half of the season. He’s such a willing learner and wants to get better. He’s very conscientious, likes to watch film and likes to get coached a little bit.”
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