Gonzaga came into Saturday afternoon’s neighborly showdown with Eastern Washington with a chance to ascend into the No. 1 spot in the national polls.
But even Greg Heister and Richard Fox, the announcing crew for KHQ’s broadcast, believed it wouldn’t be easy against the Eagles, what with Christmas next, one of GU’s toughest stretches of three games just completed and EWU’s offensive firepower.
They, and anyone who agreed with them, were wrong. The 13-1 Zags raced to a 34-point first-half lead en route to a 112-77 rout of the Eagles before another sellout at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
What they saw …
• The trap nature of the game was one of Heister’s pregame points. The Zags’ first-half points made it moot.
They scored 64, which, according to Heister, passing along information from a couple of sources, are as many as any Gonzaga team has scored in the first 20 minutes this century – and maybe ever.
Ryan Woolridge, who finished with 15 points and five assists, ignited the explosion with his play at both ends. Fox noticed.
“Woolridge has been the difference to start the game,” he said.
Joel Ayayi, 13 points and eight rebounds, helped – as he has done all season. Fox noticed both.
“Did anyone see this coming with Joel?” he asked as Gonzaga pulled away.
Corey Kispert (13 points), Filip Petrusev (24 points and nine rebounds) and Admon Gilder (22 points in 22 minutes) also played key elements.
• Will Gonzaga be No. 1 next week? With Kansas losing earlier to Villanova, Heister and Fox talked about the possibility, and how long the Zags might hold the ranking.
With five teams having ascended to the top spot already this season and all having lost, maybe the Zags don’t want it.
However, as Heister said as the game ended, “We have to assume, ladies and gentlemen, that you just watched the No. 1 team in the country.”
What we saw …
• Eastern (7-4) came into the game shooting 30 3-pointers a game and making more than 10. That ability to stretch the court also allows the Eagles to attack the rim, and they were shooting almost 58% from inside the arc.
No wonder they led the nation in scoring.
So the Zags decided to defend outside-in.
“We had to do a good job defensively, not let them hit a lot of 3s, not get comfortable and that’s what we did,” assistant coach Roger Powell told Heister and Fox in the halftime interview.
Gonzaga stretched to Eastern shooters, taking away almost all their open looks from beyond the arc in the first half. EWU took 11 and made four before finishing 6 of 20.
Each perimeter player was trusted to guard any penetration. The Zags, with their versatility at all five positions, also switched the Eagles’ flare screens, taking away one of their staple ways to get open looks.
• With the lopsided nature of the score, it was nearly impossible for Heister and Fox to be completely fair, despite the closeness of the schools.
For the most part, however, the duo tried. But at times their conversation was so Gonzaga-centric – understandable for a team winning by more than 30, ranked second in the nation (now) and featuring a lineup that was better at about every position – as to make Eastern fans feel a bit slighted.
For example, Ellis Magnuson made one of the better passes of the season, feeding Mason Peatling for a transition layup with 4:32 left in the first half.
Not a word was mentioned concerning the thread-the-needle bounce pass. In their defense, however, Gonzaga was leading 45-26 at the time.
• Rob Sacre visited midway through the second half, and it would be hard to say the conversation brought much in the way of game analysis.
It seemed more like a group of old friends getting together at a watering hole after not seeing each other for a while.
The key matchup …
• Jacob Davison led both teams with 17 shots. He made eight and his 17 points led the Eagles in scoring.
It didn’t really matter, however.
Gonzaga’s team effort overpowered the effort from Davison and that of Tyler Kidd, who came off the bench to hit all five of his shots and finish with 16 points.
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