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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga connecting on free throws and 3s, still struggling with assist-to-turnover ratio

Nov. 22, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 22, 2022 at 6:01 p.m.

Statistics can change in a hurry, especially when working off small sample sizes early in the college basketball season.

Those way-too-early concerns about free-throw accuracy that sprouted in Gonzaga’s two exhibition games? Old news. Those 3-point shooting worries that surfaced before actually attempting one in a regular-season game? Forget about it.

Those turnover woes that popped up vs. Michigan State in San Diego? They haven’t gone away and probably could be extrapolated to an assist-to-turnover issue.

As always, proceed with caution: It’s Nov. 23 and sixth-ranked Gonzaga has played four games, 160 total minutes. For example, the 40 minutes vs. Kentucky looked a lot different from the previous 40 against Texas, as did the first 20 minutes and final 20 minutes vs. Michigan State.

Remember back in the day when Gonzaga came out of the two exhibitions shooting sub-30% from distance and in the mid-50s at the free-throw line?

Here’s what has transpired since: The Zags have made 76.3% at the foul line after dropping 19 of 21 against Kentucky. That’s well above GU’s past three teams and slightly higher the 2019 squad’s 76.1.

Gonzaga (3-1) ranks 46th nationally in free-throw percentage out of 352 teams.

The Zags also have been strong on 3-pointers, other than making 22.2% in winds strong enough to influence ball flights on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

GU is at 36.8% overall – identical to the 2021 team – and No. 91 nationally. Throw out the 4-of-18 effort vs. Michigan State and the Zags are at 42% indoors, which would rank just outside the top 15.

The assist and turnover numbers are much different compared to Zags teams over the past decade. Gonzaga, however, was solid in the exhibitions with 41 assists and 23 turnovers vs. Tennessee and Warner Pacific.

That continued into the opener with 22 assists and 14 turnovers in the blowout over North Florida. Against the stout trio of Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky, the Zags had 26 assists and 56 turnovers.

Anton Watson is the only player in the rotation with more assists (10) than turnovers (seven). Reserve forward Ben Gregg has one assist and no turnovers in 13 minutes.

Point guard Nolan Hickman (10 and 10) and secondary ballhandlers Rasir Bolton (five and five), Malachi Smith (four and four) and Hunter Sallis (three and three) have the same number of assists and turnovers. Hickman and senior forwards Watson and Drew Timme share the team lead with 10 assists.

The Zags are averaging 12 assists and 17.5 turnovers. Their 0.69 assist-to-turnover ratio is 327th nationally. Gonzaga’s worst per-game assists average since the 1999 team’s run to the Elite Eight was 13.4 in 2010. Gonzaga’s highest turnover average since 1999 was 14.4 in 2003.

The closest GU has come to averaging more turnovers than assists in the past 24 seasons was in 2008 (14.5 assists, 14.3 turnovers).

Gonzaga, despite 18 turnovers, thumped Kentucky 88-72. The Zags managed to hold an 18-13 edge in points off turnovers. The Wildcats committed 11 turnovers.

The stats haven’t gone unnoticed by coach Mark Few, but he’s hesitant to offer snap judgments .

“When we go 19 of 21 at the free-throw line, we were just talking in the locker room, we haven’t been doing that in these games,” Few said following the Kentucky game. “We turned it over a lot still, but our turnovers … we were being more assertive and we were staying aggressive. They were more of that variety instead of just kind of the soft variety, which we had the other night (vs. Texas).”

The numbers that matter the most are found in the win-loss column and those are heavily influenced by scoring offense and defense.

Gonzaga has led the nation in scoring each of the past four seasons. Reaching that lofty standard won’t be easy, but the Zags are in the neighborhood at 82.5 points per game (53rd nationally) and 53.5% shooting from the field (seventh).

The 2021 team was an offensive machine, hitting nearly 55% from the field and averaging 91 points. The other three teams that paced the nation in scoring finished at 87.2, 87.4 and 87.6.

GU is yielding 72.8 points per game, which ranks 257th nationally.

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