Gonzaga had a 10 point lead in front of a raucuous sold out crowd in the McCarthy Athletic Center against Southern Utah. With 33 minutes left it seemed a little bit early to write the game off as a victory.
But with Gonzaga facing Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers next Monday, Friday's game against Southern Utah was just a nice tune up for a bigger stage. Judging from the 38 point blowout, the Bulldogs look more than tuned up for Monday's game.
There were a lot of positive takeaways from the game, none more so than performance of Polish big man Przemek Karnowski. The 7'1 freshman exceeded most expectations, finishing with 22 points and only one turnover in just 20 minutes of play. Better yet, he was able to run the court faster than you would expect a man of his size to be able to. His passing ability came as advertised as Karnowski was able to find the open man when a double team hit. Jim Meehan of the Spokesman Review had the quotes from head coach Mark Few.
"You see his feet on a couple of those ball screens, some of the down screens showing out," Few said. "He's got good feet. It's going to be a week by week process. This will be a big challenge for him on Monday with the physicalness of that game, just the style of play."
Six Zags scored in double figures and nine players played 15 minutes or more. The depth is starting as advertised and the ball sharing and minutes sharing will be one of the most important parts of this team. However, without forward Kelly Olyenk suspended for three games because of a violation of the student code of conduct, Few was forced to go with a four guard line-up on multiple occasions. They held their own against a much smaller than average Southern Utah team, but it remains to be seen how well that style will go against a Big East or ACC bruiser.
Perhaps most encouragingly, the Bulldogs only had nine turnovers. Ball control is always an important issue and previous Zags teams have been prone to careless games that quickly turn a two point game into a 20 point loss. On the flip side of this, the Bulldogs harried Southern Utah into 28 turnovers. Force that many turnovers and you will be able to win.
"We know we can win games by playing great defense, the offense will come along with that. We stayed in the gaps, attacked the ball in the post and came out with a lot of steals," forward Guy Landri Edi said.
Of course in a game this good, not everything went according to plan. Despite a height advantage up front, the Zags only outrebounded the Thunderbirds 33-29. The loss of Rob Sacre down low will show itself more and more as the season progresses, but even though Sacre didn't garner a whole lot of rebounds - no one was better at ensuring that the opposing player wouldn't win the battle for the board. Karnowski only ended with three rebounds.
The team shot great from the floor as long as it wasn't a free throw. The Zags were only 17-for-30 from the charity stripe. When you are already winning by close to 40 points, this isn't a big deal. But this is a really big deal if the game is much closer. Karnowski was only 2-for-7 from the free throw line, and this could be a noticeable change as Sacre shot 76 percent from the free-throw line last year.
Also, such as the case in most Gonzaga games. One player on the opposing team seemed to go off. Thunderbirds forward Jackson Stevenett led all scorers with 29 points. In losses, the Zags have a tendency to have an opposing player blow up for 25 points in the game when he is averaging five points per game over the season. Stevenett is a good player and is the go to guy for the Thunderbirds.
Final negative - the Zags finished with one block. The Thunderbirds had six. The loss of Sacre down low will become more apparent against teams more suited to drive to the hoop, but the interior defense leaves something to be desired. Against West Virginia on Monday, we will get a better indication of where they actually stand.