The Gonzaga Bulldogs won their opening game at the Maui Invitational. They beat the Illinois Fighting Illini 84-78 in a thriller. These are our takeaways.
Last night was the first serious challenge the Gonzaga Bulldogs have had so far in this young 2018-19 season. For the opening 18 or so minutes of the first half, neither team was able to find a consistent groove. The Zags were flustered early by a very tight Illini defense, however, they closed out the half on a 7-1 run to take a 39-32 lead to the break.
Gonzaga’s offense was a bit more inspired to open the second half. Everyone in the eight-man rotation contributed. Rui Hachimura had some strong moments of his own and looked every bit a potential NBA first round draft pick. Gonzaga took a 13 point lead on three separate occasions, but Illinois would not go away.
The orange-clad team fought their way back, cutting the deficit to 80-78 with 1:01 left in the game. A pair of Jeremy Jones made free throws and an emphatic Hashimura dunk put it on ice for Gonzaga. Here are our takeaways from the game.
The Bulldogs are without big man Killian Tillie until after Christmas. Even without him, Gonzaga showed they have a deep team. Four of five starters scored in double figures, including Tillie’s replacement, Brandon Clark. They were led by Hashimura’s 23 points. Jeremy Jones came off the bench for a double-double, 14 points, and 11 rebounds in just 17 minutes.
When head coach Mark Few needed some additional grit and defense he was able to go to his bench. Illinois center Giorgi Bezhanishvili dominated inside at times. Few brought in 6′ 11” Filip Petrusev which seemed to take a bit out of the Illini big man. The Gonzaga freshman had six boards and five points in 15 minutes of action. Geno Crandall also came off the bench. Although he didn’t score, Crandall had a pair of rebounds and a pair of steals.
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As mentioned earlier, Bezhanishvili was very good inside for Illinois. Yes, Petrusev did a good job in relief covering him, but down the road inside play could be this team’s Achille’s heel. At least until Tillie comes back. If the Zags go up against a team with multiple talented big men in the game at the same time, will they be able to hold up?
There is more than one way the Zags can beat their opponent. For the time being, going inside, hard, might be the way to beat Gonzaga. On the bright side, not many teams can do it.
There probably isn’t a college coach in America that wouldn’t love to have a backcourt of Zack Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins. The pair can do it all, dribble, shoot, pass, defend, and score. Monday they combined for 25 points (eight of 16 from the floor), 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. Aside from a few ball-handling lapses in the second half, they provided the tempo Gonzaga needed to win.
Every now and then, especially defending the lead, it would be nice to see them run a half-court set to eat some clock and frustrate the opposition.
Check back with us after the Arizona game for more coverage.