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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Slowing Hunter Dickinson key to stopping Jayhawks in second half of Bulldogs’ rout of Kansas

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Graham Ike heads to the basket against Kansas Jayhawks center Hunter Dickinson during the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

SALT LAKE CITY – At this point of the college basketball season, Gonzaga fans would much rather press fast-forward than hit the rewind button.

The Bulldogs’ 89-68 Round of 32 victory over Kansas is still worth another look before Mark Few’s crew heads to Detroit for a highly anticipated Sweet 16 matchup against top-seeded Purdue.

In this NCAA Tournament edition of the day-after rewind, we begin with Gonzaga’s second-half defense on Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson, highlight the Bulldogs’ improved 3-point shooting and round things out with a look at the program’s recent track record against college basketball’s blue bloods.

Hounding Hunter

Defensive stops were in short supply for Gonzaga through the game’s first 20 minutes, but the Bulldogs hunkered down in the second half, limited Kansas to 27% shooting and virtually eliminated the Jayhawks’ All-American center as a scoring threat.

Dickinson presented a unique challenge for the Zags, who’ve faced a variety of talented 7-footers this season – Purdue’s Zach Edey, UConn’s Donvan Clingan and Kentuck’s Zvonimir Ivisic – but probably none who possess the complete offensive package that Kansas’ senior brings to Bill Self’s frontcourt.

Dickinson’s strength, footwork and touch allow him to thrive as a low-post scorer, similar to Edey and Clingan, but he’s also comfortable as a facilitator or as a floor stretcher who can knock down shots from the perimeter.

The Zags got a glimpse of everything Dickinson can do from an offensive standpoint during the first half, surrendering 13 points and four assists to the senior transfer, who opened 5 of 8 from the field and converted his first two 3-point attempts.

Dickinson did most of his offensive work with Graham Ike on Gonzaga’s bench, scoring all but two of his first half points inside the final nine minutes. Nothing came easy for Kansas’ center in the second half, though, and Dickinson closed 1 of 7 from the field and 0 for 2 from the 3-point line, recording more turnovers (1) than assists (0) after the break.

“Well, first of all, Graham wasn’t in foul trouble in the second half so we were able to keep Graham on him, which he did a great job defending him,” Few said. “We changed our ball screen covers because it was pretty pathetic in the first half. So we had to change some things there.

“And just did a great job of making his shots hard, not giving him any easy ones. We still gave up a couple 3s. They were right on. They just kind of popcorned out. By and large, we took away his easy ones.”

Dickinson knocked down his second 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining in the first half, but subsequently gave up an offensive rebound to Ben Gregg and fouled the Gonzaga forward on a layup to close the half, allowing the Bulldogs to close the deficit to 44-43.

“This is so minor, but him getting a second foul with 1.2 seconds left stunk for us because we didn’t defensive rebound the ball,” Kansas coach Bill Self said

Easy as 1, 2, 3…

The days of fretting over Gonzaga’s 3-point shooting seem to be long gone.

Two months ago, the Bulldogs were on track to post their lowest 3-point percentage of the Few era, shooting a season-low 10% (2 of 20) from distance in a 77-76 loss at Santa Clara on Jan. 11.

Gonzaga’s 3-point percentage, which fell to 31.7% after a dismal outing at the Leavey Center, has been on the rise ever since.

That trend continued last week on the sports’ biggest stage. Gonzaga combined to go 18 of 36 from the 3-point line against McNeese State (10 of 21) and Kansas (8 of 15), raising their season percentage to 36.2%.

“I think we’re super confident,” point guard Ryan Nembhard said. “We’re just confident in us as a group, regardless if shots are falling or not. We’re confident in what we can do and how we can provide offense, whether shots are falling or not. A lot of people were talking about (our 3-point shooting) earlier in the year, but we’ve definitely improved since then.

“I think it’s just a testament to guys’ work, guys getting in the gym and staying consistent.”

With the exception of Jun Seok Yeo, who played cleanup minutes near the end of both games, all seven Gonzaga players who attempted a 3-pointer made one during a two-game stay at the Delta Center.

Nolan Hickman led the Zags in that category, making 6 of 10 from behind the arc, and Ben Gregg had multiple 3s in each game, going 4 of 6.

‘Blue blood’ bashers

Just when it appeared Gonzaga was running out of program “firsts,” the Bulldogs achieved another unique milestone with Saturday’s result.

Gonzaga had pocketed victories against each of the five traditional “blue blood” programs, but the Bulldogs had never won three games against Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA within the same season.

After holding off UCLA for a 69-65 win on Nov. 22 at the Maui Invitational and edging Kentucky 89-85 on Feb. 10 at Rupp Arene, Gonzaga completed a rare triple crown with its blowout win over Kansas on Saturday.

The reaction Gonzaga players would’ve had if someone told them they’d accomplish that feat before the season?

“I think you would’ve thought it was a pretty good season,” said redshirt freshman forward Braden Huff. “But many people, I think especially early, counted us out and didn’t think we’d able to extend this streak to nine (straight Sweet 16s). To be able to beat a team like Kansas, the caliber of Kansas, to extend the streak … it’s pretty awesome, it’s pretty cool.”

Since the 2018-19 season, Gonzaga’s put together an impressive record against the blue bloods, going 10-2 in those games. That includes a 4-0 record against UCLA, 2-0 mark against both Kentucky and Kansas, and 1-1 records against Duke and UNC.

Some of those games haven’t been too competitive, either. The Bulldogs led by as many as 27 points in Saturday’s win over Kansas and led the Jayhawks by 18 during the 2020-21 season opener. Gonzaga’s largest lead during a 2021-22 win over UCLA was 24 points and the Bulldogs took a 23-point lead in the second half of their 2019-20 win over UNC.