The Gonzaga Bulldogs capped off their successful Maui Jim Invitational with an 89-87 win in the championship game over previously top-ranked Duke.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs hung onto a narrow lead to knock the Duke Blue Devils from their undefeated reign at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. The game was tantalizing from beginning to finish. When the clock struck midnight, Mark Few was holding the glass slipper. Here are our takeaways from the 89-87 Gonzaga Bulldogs title win over Duke.
Is ESPN Finally a Believer?
During the first few minutes of the battle between Duke and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at the Lahaina Civic Center, the commentators could be heard saying things such as, “Gonzaga is an elite program. It is no longer a mid-major, they just play in a mid-major conference”. Yes, ESPN, the Zags are legit and they are the real deal! The Freddy and Fitzsimmons show on ESPN radio frustratingly were only discussing what Duke didn’t do during the game.
Finally, credit was given where credit was due, and ESPN’s Jay Bilas admitted they shouldn’t be discussing Duke’s shortcomings for the game, but rather, giving accolades to Gonzaga for their performance. Stealing the title from Duke in Maui wasn’t luck, because Duke didn’t play well. The Bulldogs exchanged blows for 40 minutes and outplayed their opponent. Period.
Perfecting the defense
Gonzaga’s defense was nearly perfect for 33 minutes and had ten total blocks for the game. Their defense held Duke to only 39 points in the first half. Coach K’s team made the first bucket of the game and led 2-0, which became the Blue Devils only lead of the game. Duke chipped away at a 16 point deficit in the second half, but the relentless Zag’s defense forced the Blue Devils to miss their last seven shots in the final 60 seconds of the game.
The opposing Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett were an inside presence with their strength and length. Combined, they scored 45 of Duke’s 87 points. But, it was the incessant Rui Hachimura/Brandon Clarke duo that robbed Duke of their last four attempts to win the game.
Executing on offense
The Gonzaga offense played at a ridiculous pace, shooting an impressive near 70% in the first half. They continued an astonishing performance in the second half by making six of their first seven shots. The Zags shot 52% from the field and 52.6% from the three-point line.
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All five Bulldogs starters impressively contributed to taking down the number one Blue Devils. Hachimura led with 20 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Zach Norvell Jr. was not far behind with 18 points and three steals. Clarke had 17 points, six blocks, and five rebounds. Corey Kispert shot 50% from the field and grabbed three rebounds. Zags senior leader, Josh Perkins had nine points and seven assists.
Gonzaga took center stage, played against high competition, and they took multiple hits to the jaw, all while holding on to their lead.
Confidently, this Gonzaga Bulldogs team will stare down their opponent, take over a game both defensively and offensively, and doesn’t wilt under pressure. Mark Few retools each year; he does not rebuild. Hachimura, Norvell Jr., and Tillie are products of the 2016-2017 recruiting class. Gonzaga was prepared for an electrifying atmosphere of the quaint Lahaina Civic Center and will be able to handle the same intensity on a larger stage.
Does Gonzaga earn the number one ranking this week? Will they go undefeated? Will there be a rematch with Duke in the NCAA tournament?
In order to definitively say yes, this talented team needs to better protect the rock. Their 75 turnovers in six games allow for too much vulnerability and easy buckets for their opponents. Few and his staff will be working hard to correct the errors. When the Zags cut down their giveaways, along with the return of Killian Tillie, they could be unstoppable.
Emerald City Swagger will have more Zags coverage after the Thanksgiving break.