Gonzaga’s 40-minute scrap with UT Arlington wasn’t pretty, but it was by far the Zags’ most interesting game of the young season.
The Mavericks made it so with their game plan at both ends of the floor.
UT Arlington second-year coach Chris Ogden needs no introduction to Gonzaga’s program. His team lost by 34 to the Zags last season.
They lined up again Tuesday, and Gonzaga dug out a 72-66 win.
“Look, it’s Gonzaga, with (a) pro inside game,” Ogden said of his strategy to pack the paint and dare Ryan Woolridge, Anton Watson and Filip Petrusev to shoot from the perimeter. “We can’t just line up with Gonzaga and think we’re going to have a chance. We decided to take away their inside game and see what happens.”
It worked … but it didn’t always work. Woolridge hit three 3-pointers and scored 19 points while Watson and Petrusev each missed their only 3-point attempt. The tactic limited the Zags to a season-low 36 paint points, but they had 22 paint points in the second half and made frequent trips to the free-throw line.
UTA’s offense showed its affinity for the 3-point shot (11 of 26) and its ability to take care of the ball (10 turnovers), the latter slowing Gonzaga’s transition game.
Senior guard Brian Warren, sporting a James Hardenesque beard, was a handful to defend. The left-hander had a few 3-pointers rattle in and out, nailed a couple of difficult step-back jumpers and scored 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
“It was tough because they had 1 through 5 that could shoot the ball, so we had to be alert at all times,” Woolridge said. “They were running a little motion and they were reading us. Usually, a team does what they do. They were reading us and reacting.”
Woolridge’s UTA ties
Woolridge’s connections to the Mavericks’ program go way back, which helps explain his fiery disposition and staredown with Ogden at the conclusion of the first half.
UT Arlington, under former coach Scott Cross, recruited Woolridge when he was in eighth grade. Woolridge faced the Mavericks three times when he was at North Texas, though he didn’t play in a loss as a freshman.
“I was actually supposed to go there a long time ago and then some stuff happened,” said Woolridge, who is from Mansfield, about 20 miles south of Arlington. “They kind of did the same thing last year, except they had me guard somebody that was running figure 8s, so it got me super tired.”
A year ago in North Texas’ 63-61 win, Woolridge scored 14 points and only attempted two 3s.
“It was similar (to Tuesday’s strategy), but they played more up, played at the free-throw line and tried to ice me (steer him baseline away from ball screens) and I just broke that down,” Woolridge said.
Ogden came to UT Arlington after serving as an assistant at Texas Tech, where he was the primary recruiter on Zags freshman Drew Timme. The two hugged and chatted briefly before the game.
Ogden’s system “clearly works,” Timme said, but if opponents plan on sagging off Woolridge, “he’s just going to go off for 20 (points) again. I mean, do it at your own will.”
About that free-throw shooting
Like the game itself, it wasn’t pretty. The Zags have been so-so at the line, entering the game at 69.5% and exiting at 66.4% following a 17-of-30 performance. Gonzaga hasn’t shot below 70 percent in a season since 2010 (66.4).
Woolridge, who made 54.2% in three years at North Texas, missed 5 of 7 free throws. The Mavericks purposely fouled Woolridge in the closing minutes, a tactic others will mimic if the 6-foot-3 senior doesn’t make them pay. Admon Gilder went 7 of 11, well below his 77.3% career average.
“Most definitely, we’re going to get to the free-throw line and practice,” Gilder said. “We’re going to need to make those, especially in big games.”
Foul-line struggles prevented Gonzaga from extending its lead into the comfortable range.
“Everybody knows, free throws,” said Killian Tillie, when asked what the team needs to focus on. “We’re going to shoot a lot of free throws (Wednesday).”
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