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Gonzaga rewind: Zags maintain sharp edge

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 10, 2019, 5:48 p.m.

The 2017 Gonzaga Bulldogs had it. The 2019 Zags definitely have it through 25 games.

Basketball seasons inevitably bring ups and downs. Part of the Zags’ formula for success is they keep the downs to a minimum.

They’ve obviously had stretches where defense and/or rebounding proved costly or they endured an extended offensive lull, but there hasn’t been a snoozer or no-show performance yet, whether facing a top-five opponent, a WCC challenger or a conference also-ran.

That’s one of the topics in our latest Gonzaga rewind. GU fans could hit rewind for hours re-examining Saturday’s 94-46 pasting of Saint Mary’s, which would prefer the fast-forward button.

DIALED IN

About the closest Gonzaga has come to a letdown, and it’s a bit of a reach, was a workmanlike 23-point win at Portland.

It’s one of the reasons why Gonzaga keeps putting up record numbers. The Zags have seven wins by at least 40 points, the most by a Division I team since Duke had eight in 2001, according to STATS. The 486-point differential during GU’s 14-game winning streak is the best by any Division I team over any 14-game span in the last two decades.

Talent advantages can cover up a lot of things, but the Zags have stayed on task regardless of the caliber of opponent. There haven’t been wild fluctuations in their effort or level of play.

“The coaches talk everybody up, they let us know every game is going to be a battle,” senior guard Geno Crandall said. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. We have to come in with the same idea. It’s kind of been a theme for us, come out with an edge.”

Human nature suggests that’s difficult to summon game after game.

“It’s probably easier said than done,” senior guard Josh Perkins said, “but we’re playing for a bigger purpose. Now adding Killian (Tillie, sidelined by a foot injury) into it, we have more chips on our shoulder and we’re playing for each other.”

LOCKDOWN DEFENSE

The Zags still lead the nation in KenPom’s offensive efficiency. Their defensive efficiency has climbed to No. 20.

Another example of Gonzaga’s sharp focus has been its ability to corral opposing teams’ top scorers. Saint Mary’s guard Jordan Ford came in leading the WCC in scoring. He exited with eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Forward Malik Fitts had 12 points, four below his average, while making 5 of 12 shots.

San Francisco’s Frankie Ferrari and Charles Minlend combined for 28 points on 11-of-25 shooting. BYU’s Yoeli Childs, the WCC’s top scorer at the time, made just three field goals and scored 12 points. The exception was San Diego’s Isaiah Pineiro, who put up 30 points but didn’t crack 50 percent shooting (11 of 23).

“We throw a lot of different guys at different players, give them a lot of different looks,” Crandall said. “At some point, you’re going to have to face Josh, me, Jeremy (Jones). We can switch with Rui (Hachimura) and BC (Brandon Clarke), you have to face Corey (Kispert), a bigger guard, and Zach is the same way.

“We know we’re going to bring it on the offensive end. We’ve had to step our defense up.”

The Zags chewed up their four closest WCC pursuers – BYU (93-63), San Diego (85-69), San Francisco (92-62) and Saint Mary’s (94-46) – the last two weeks.

“To win against the next closest four so resoundingly is a great accomplishment by our guys and I hope it doesn’t lessen just how good this league is,” coach Mark Few said. “That’s my only concern. San Francisco and Saint Mary’s were ranked higher than all of the Pac-12 teams except one (in the NET rankings).”

PASSING LANE

Perkins didn’t score a point until 9:16 remained in the second half, but he was at the helm of another offensive clinic. He had nine of the team’s 22 assists as the Zags hit 58.3 percent from the field.

Perkins moved up to second on the school’s career assists list with 648. Matt Santangelo holds the top spot with 668.

“It means a lot, it means hard work is paying off,” Perkins said. “Once I leave here I can look back and reflect on that. At the moment we’re still chasing a title. That’s the primary focus, playing for these guys and getting one in Killian’s name.”

Perkins’ career hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but he’s playing his best basketball this season. He’s averaging 10.4 points and 6.8 assists. His 3.47 assist-to-turnover ratio is in the top 10 nationally.

“Hey, it’s been a long, hard – actually not hard – a long journey for him, the staff and myself,” Few said. “But to see this growth, I’m so happy for him to have this success.”

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