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Gonzaga’s handiwork on boards helps build 4-0 start

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 17, 2019

Gonzaga sophomore forward Filip Petrusev pulls down a rebound against North Dakota on Nov. 12. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga sophomore forward Filip Petrusev pulls down a rebound against North Dakota on Nov. 12. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The field-goal percentage (56.6, first nationally), points per game (95.3, seventh ) and points allowed (59.8, tied 55th) are indicative of Gonzaga’s fast start through four games.

But perhaps the most important stat thus far is rebounding . The Zags are plus-17.8 per game, a gaudy number no matter the level of competition.

Gonzaga figured to have another dynamic offense, even after losing a pair of first-round draft picks. Ryan Woolridge has alleviated preseason concerns about replacing all-time assists leader Josh Perkins.

Rebounding was another preseason concern that has turned into an early-season strength. The Zags manhandled Texas A&M 46-29 on the boards in Friday’s 79-49 win.

Gonzaga’s biggest tests, of course, are down the road, including North Carolina, which is always good on the glass and currently ranked ninth nationally. San Francisco is No. 7. Washington is plus-3.7 and outrebounded Tennessee by 10 in a 75-62 loss.

“Going into this year and just early in the fall I thought that was maybe going to be a weakness for us,” coach Mark Few said. “I still don’t think we’re hitting and blocking out as well as we can, but we seem to be coming up with them.”

Filip Petrusev has made noticeable improvement in the last two games with a pair of double-doubles. He had 15 rebounds against North Dakota and added 10 versus the Aggies’ athletic interior players. The 6-foot-11 sophomore had six boards in each of the first two games.

“That’s a big point of emphasis the last couple weeks,” Petrusev said. “Everybody is going to the boards, especially defensively and not allowing (opponents) the second chances. We rebound and get into our offense right away.”

Everybody is an accurate description. Woolridge and shooting guard Admon Gilder each grabbed seven rebounds against Texas A&M. Woolridge had eight boards against North Dakota. Reserve guard Joel Ayayi’s 23 defensive rebounds are tied with Petrusev for most on the team.

In Gonzaga’s seven-man rotation, the rebounding averages range from Corey Kispert’s 3.3 to Petrusev’s 9.3. Ayayi is second at 7.8, followed by Watson (5.8), Woolridge (5.5) and Drew Timme (4.8).

“Obviously Anton has a knack for them, Filip has taken a big jump here as of late and that’s something Drew does very well,” Few said. “The key for us is those guards. Ryan was down there poking at some even if he didn’t get them and Admon was tipping them around (vs. Texas A&M). Our best rebounding teams are when our guards rebound, too.”

The Zags have had double-digit offensive rebounds in all four games. Alabama State, 30th nationally last season in offensive rebounds, had just six against GU in the season opener. The Aggies had 11 offensive boards, but they missed 39 shots and made just 30.4% from the field.

Gonzaga should get a boost from senior Killian Tillie, who is expected to return soon from an Oct. 3 knee surgery. The 6-10 forward was the second-leading rebounder (5.9), behind Johnathan Williams, on the 2018 team.

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