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Zag-Husky post-mortem (almost literally, for Gonzaga)

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Post-Washington/Gonzaga thoughts, also known as The Zags’ Near-Death Experience:

-- As posted here earlier, the Zags had had an uncanny streak of eight straight games against the UW of shooting 50 percent or better. The fact that ended with GU’s .429 was a tribute to the UW matchup zone as well as the Zags’ inability to deal with it – and down the stretch, their failure to connect from near point-blank range.

-- In retrospect – always easy to see things more clearly that way – maybe it’s not surprising the Zags seemed out of rhythm all night. Consider: Right now, GU’s offense is ahead of its defense. So if an opposing defense can foil timing and execution effectively, it has the potential to get in the heads of a team at both ends. That’s not to excuse GU’s defensive lapses, which at times were egregious – just to say that Washington took away what Gonzaga likes to do best.

-- Just spitballing here, but having seen a year-plus of Mike Hopkins’ matchup zone, it seems to me one prevailing theory is that it’s willing to take its chances with what offenses can produce by getting to the ball to the high post. Perhaps it’s the fact that in man-to-man offense – what teams are running 90 percent of the time -- hardly anybody takes a shot from the free-throw line in. Indeed, Brandon Clarke struggled last night and never seemed comfortable operating near the high-post. Meanwhile, the Zags didn’t seem to consistently rely on that high post. Analyst Bill Walton (when he wasn’t referencing Larry Craig), to the question of what Gonzaga would want to do to attack on a late possession, made mention that usually the solution is to get the ball to the high post.

-- Until the final, fatal strike by Rui Hachimura, the last few Gonzaga possessions were a train wreck. The capper was the hurried, off-balance shot by Josh Perkins with GU up 79-75, which led to Perkins’ (and others’) failure to get back and help prevent a Husky runout by Matisse Thybulle – defensive execution that ought to be a cardinal sin at that point in the game.

-- Perkins played 40 minutes. Never resting your point guard is not usually a recipe for success, but it speaks to the urgency of the situation for the Zags. Perkins had his hiccups, but the Seattle sports-radio operative who claimed Thursday Perkins "has regressed" should note that against a schedule including five Power 5 teams plus Creighton, Perkins has 75 assists and 19 turnovers.

-- Officiating seemed spotty most of the night – key calls going against key players, who sat for significant stretches or fouled out.

-- Filip Petrusev was a big key for the Zags, seeming to rise to the occasion and not backing down with four baskets in five attempts.

-- At least there was a corollary to the fouls in the form of a free throw-shooting clinic. Gonzaga made 19 of 19, the Huskies 14 of 15. That’s the best I can recall since that 2005 Maui Invitational triple-OT screamer between Gonzaga and Michigan State, when the Zags hit 27 of 28 and MSU 26 of 29 – 53 of 57 combined.

-- In the era of Gonzaga’s domination of the UW, the game reminded me of the last one they played at the old Kennel in 2002, won by GU in overtime. Gonzaga was widely figured to romp, Washington put up a huge fight behind a big game from guard Will Conroy – now a UW assistant – but Gonzaga won in overtime with Blake Stepp scoring 33 points.

-- Another thought on the 12-in-13 streak by GU over the UW: It could very possibly have been 13 straight, but for the fall point guard Derek Raivio took midway through the first half of Washington’s 99-95 victory in 2005, causing him to sit out the rest of the game. Freshman Jeremy Pargo replaced him and had six turnovers. And all Raivio contributed the previous year against the UW was 21 points, 8 assists, 4 steals and zero turnovers.

-- On weird and quirky happenings: By the days – first Wednesday of December – last night was exactly the night a year ago that Washington went into Kansas City and upended No. 2 Kansas. It probably needs to keep scheduling a big game for that evening.

-- Kudos to the Spokesman-Review for a nifty, story-telling package on its sports cover today, with the headline “Wait Just One Second” over Dan Pelle’s photo of Hachimura launching the killing shot. You people who aren’t subscribing to a daily newspaper, start, dammit.

-- What’s it all mean? For GU, there’s no great benefit to beating the UW – today, at least – other than you didn’t lose, something that would potentially have cost a seed line for the NCAA tournament. On the other side, there was discussion among some fans and media that it constituted a moral victory for the Huskies. I’d contend that by itself, it means nothing. But if it means that Washington will play at or near this level for the next three months, then it’s worthwhile. What would puzzle me if I’m a UW backer is why the Huskies, with a veteran team back, have performed at a generally lackluster level until the Gonzaga game.

-- Final GU thought: There’s a tendency to think of an undefeated, No. 1 team as flawless – nigh-unbeatable. And indeed Gonzaga looked that way in the second half against Creighton. But the reality is, the Zags have had long stretches of forgettable play, against Illinois, Arizona, and Washington. Still . . . when Killian Tillie went down with his injury, I (completely arbitrarily) set forth an over/under of 3.5 wins for a six-pack of games including the semifinals and finals in Maui, Creighton, Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina. Whether that was the right number is debatable, but Gonzaga has hit four wins (with the added detriment of Geno Crandall’s injury), and all things considered, if it can bag one of the last two against the Vols and Tar Heels, it would be a mammoth achievement.


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