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Gonzaga rewind: Defense, rebounding top Zags’ to-do list

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 16, 2018

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s student section serenaded Gonzaga in the final minute with a time-honored taunt: “Same as last time.”

They were half right. The Tar Heels did get the better of the Zags again with a 103-90 win Saturday, but the game itself looked nothing like UNC’s 71-65 victory in the 2017 NCAA championship game.

That was a gritty, back-and-forth contest with both teams shooting poorly and trying to manufacture points inside a massive NFL stadium. This one was all offense, all the time.

The loss, coupled with last Sunday’s setback against Tennessee, made the Zags’ to-do list clear. We take a closer look at the defense/rebounding woes, Filip Petrusev’s bench contribution and Josh Perkins’ up-and-down night in the latest Gonzaga rewind.

Point parade

The Zags’ defensive issues have surfaced, not surprisingly, against the top opponents on their rugged nonconference schedule. North Carolina, Duke and Tennessee have dynamic offensive weapons that could earn paychecks with multiple commas in the near future.

Creighton doesn’t lack firepower and Washington, which has struggled to score against better opponents, gave GU’s defense fits.

The 3-point shot and rebounding have been major factors. Gonzaga’s last four opponents – Creighton (14), Washington (nine), Tennessee (12) and UNC (13) – comprise four of the top five made 3-pointers by opponents.

Duke and North Carolina tagged Gonzaga on the boards. Tennessee cleaned up the offensive glass.

“Defense is our main priority,” Perkins said. “We score the ball well but if they’re scoring with us it’s never good.

“And we have to fix this rebounding thing, too. They were plus 20, which is unacceptable. That’s a collective effort one through five.”

The 2017 squad rarely allowed big games to individuals. Opposing star players were forced to earn every point, usually compiling subpar shooting percentages along the way.

The current Zags have had issues in that department. Illinois’ Trent Frazier hit six 3s and scored 29 points. Creighton’s Ty-Shon Alexander made five 3s and scored 27 points. UW’s Jaylen Nowell posted 26 points and Matisse Thybulle, in a midst of a shooting slump, found his stroke and scored 18 points, 11 above his average.

Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield had 25 of his 30 points in the second half. UNC’s Cameron Johnson connected on six 3s and scored a season-high 25 points. Luke Maye shook off season-long shooting struggles and tallied 20 points.

“They create some tough mismatches with Maye and Johnson shooting the heck out of it,” coach Mark Few said. “And obviously the rebounds.”

And the pace, too. The Tar Heels’ relentless, uptempo style – even after allowing made field goals or free throws – kept the pressure on the short-handed Zags.

“That’s how we play, too, at times,” forward Brandon Clarke said, “but I feel like we were a bit more slow tonight.”

Perkins’ highs, lows

Perkins put together an interesting stat line: five-3-pointers, 20 points, eight assists, five rebounds, four steals and six turnovers.

The senior point guard, coming off his first scoreless game since South Carolina in the 2017 Final Four, had his first 20-point game this season. He’s handed out at least six assists in every game. He’s had two high-turnover games – seven against Illinois and six vs. North Carolina.

One sequence captured Perkins’ up-and-down evening. He had a steal and assist on Zach Norvell’s layup to cut UNC’s lead to 32-22. He committed an offensive foul on the next possession and then got beat off the dribble by Coby White, who fed Johnson for a field goal. Then came another Perkins’ turnover and UNC dunk at the other end.

How did he respond? With a 3-pointer, a steal and layup and another 3 as the Zags trimmed North Carolina’s lead to 39-30 late in the half.

“Obviously, I’m a little upset we lost last week and (Saturday), but put it in perspective we’ve had the toughest schedule in America,” Perkins said of GU’s 9-2 record. “We’re in good hands. Overall, the team morale is really good.”

Petrusev pitches in

The Zags didn’t many offensive dry spells but reserve forward Filip Petrusev helped them through one early in the first half. Shortly after checking in, the 6-foot-11 Petrusev posted up Sterling Manley and finished with his left hand to put Gonzaga on top 9-5.

UNC promptly went on a 19-3 run with Petrusev’s 3 accounting for the Zags’ points. He added another post-up basket in a 10-minute, first-half stint while Clarke was saddled with two fouls.

Petrusev had a similar impact offensively against Duke 11 points and four rebounds, but he didn’t register a rebound vs. UNC.

“Versatile player,” Perkins said. “To be that young, he seems like a natural.”

Petrusev made his only second-half appearance with 57 seconds remaining when Hachimura came out after logging 19 minutes. Clarke played all 20 minutes in the closing half.

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