COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Gonzaga’s 79-49 dismantling of Texas A&M on Friday was a blowout over the final 30 minutes, but the Zags – and likely the coaching staff and fan base – still had several hold-your-breath moments.
Point guard Ryan Woolridge took a couple of nasty spills, one in each half, on forays to the rim. Late in the first half, Anton Watson left the game clutching his left arm after suffering a shoulder subluxation.
Shortly after the second of Woolridge’s hard falls, Filip Petrusev lost some skin near his nose when he was whacked by a defender as he scored inside.
Trainer Josh Therrien saw quite a bit of court time tending to players, no doubt more than he and the players wanted.
Watson suffered his shoulder injury pursuing a rebound. He was back with the starting unit to open the second half and scored six points to go with one rebound, one steal and one assist in 11 minutes. He finished with eight points, two boards and another strong defensive effort.
“It was weird,” Watson said. “It just popped back in. I didn’t even mean to pop it back into place, that’s the crazy thing. It just did it on its own.”
Watson said it’s the first time he’s dealt with a shoulder subluxation. He said his shoulder didn’t bother him in the second half.
“It was good after that,” said Watson, who has been a steady contributor at both ends of the floor in GU’s 4-0 start.
Watson got popped above and below his right eye in Tuesday’s win over North Dakota, requiring a couple of stitches. There was concern Watson might experience some swelling, but the only noticeable result was a small shiner.
The 6-foot-8 forward has a theory about his seemingly magical healing powers.
“I’m healing really quick because I want to play,” the freshman said.
Woolridge came out of the game with a tender wrist, a sizable scrape on his forearm and a cut on his leg that forced him to exit for a few minutes.
“All in a day’s work,” shrugged Woolridge, who turned 23 on Saturday. “That’s just basketball. You have to keep fighting and pushing. On to the next game.”
Senior forward Killian Tillie again went through pregame drills and has made measurable progress lately in his recovery from Oct. 3 knee surgery.
Will he make his season debut Tuesday against Texas Arlington? “Maybe,” he said.
Ayayi shines again
Sophomore guard Joel Ayayi put together another monster stat line, which makes him 4 for 4 through four games.
Ayayi had eight points, seven rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.
GU is juggling starters Woolridge and Amdon Gilder and backup Ayayi in a three-man rotation at two spots that was even tighter when Woolridge was shaken up and forced to leave for a few minutes.
Ayayi’s best minutes came in Gonzaga’s decisive 20-0 run that left Texas A&M in a 17-point hole late in the first half. Ayayi had three rebounds, two assists and two steals as the Zags went on a 9-0 run to erase a 14-13 deficit. He made plays all over the court in another shift later in the half.
“We had a rough first 5 minutes, but after that we came out more aggressive defensively, more in the gaps because we knew they were a really good driving team,” Ayayi said. “We just settled in (offensively). Everyone was excited and they were taking charges. We were going just a little too fast. When we slowed down and took our time it was pretty easy after that.”
Ayayi is tied with Drew Timme for sixth in minutes, but the 6-5 wing is first in steals (1.7) and second in rebounding (7.8) and assists (4.75). His two turnovers are the lowest among the seven players in the rotation. He’s shooting 50% from the field and averaging 7.5 points per game.
About that defense
Aggies coach Buzz Williams tried everything to shake up his offense in the midst of an 8-minute, 43-second dry spell. He hopped up and down and did deep knee bends, and his booming voice could be heard in most of the arena when he shouted instructions.
He burned a couple of timeouts and once even subbed in five players at once. Nothing worked.
“I used the first timeout when it was getting away from us a little bit and then I used a second one,” he said. “The remaining 11 1/2 (of the first half) is that gap, a large gap when they just whipped us.”
Williams had numbers to prove it: Zero assists and 10 turnovers in the opening half and 17 “bad shots” after just nine in the Aggies’ first two games.
“You want that bad-shot percentage to be less than 10% of your shots,” he said. “That (17) was 30% of our shots for what we define as bad shots. Maybe the environment, maybe the opponent.”
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