A Grip on Sports: Zags needs to get back to playing Zags basketball on the offensive end

A GRIP IN THE SPORT • Time to panic? Or just a glitch as Gonzaga rebuilds his roster and moves to the inevitable Sweet 16 berth? Can they be both?

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• We witnessed 11th-place Texas do two things Wednesday night in Austin. The Longhorns boated against the runners-up – for now – Zags 93-74 before a sold-out crowd in the new Moody Center. And we watched the Bulldogs wither for the third time in less than two years against a team capable and willing to deny them transition baskets and the ability to execute their offense.

The former, standing on its own, wouldn’t be a concern. No reason to panic. Sure, no regular season opponent has done this to GU since Washington State in 2010, but getting beaten easily is always a possibility when you’re facing highly talented teams, especially on their home turf. Add in the motivation provided by Gonzaga’s 86-74 win last year in Spokane and the chances got even bigger.

But the latter is starting to become problematic.

Think back to the 2021 NCAA title game. What we saw Texas do last night looked awfully familiar to what Baylor did in that 86-70 rout. Then there’s last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Arkansas. It wasn’t as lopsided, with a 74-68 finish, but there were similarities on Gonzaga’s offensive side to what happened last night.

An athletic team exerting extreme pressure, forcing the Zags out of their comfort zone.

It’s not easy to do. If it were, others would be able to do it. But more could happen this season until the Bulldogs figure out how to work together. If they do.

We bet they will. This has been the trademark of Mark Few’s teams over the years.

Another brand? They share the ball. That hasn’t happened in the aforementioned losses, and it hasn’t happened so far this season. It’s probably not due to a lack of “I want” but more of a “I can’t”.

Against Arkansas last season, the Zags assisted on only nine of their 24 buckets. That’s 37.5 percent. Overall last year, they witnessed 55 percent of their rims made and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.56. In other words, they cared for the ball and shared it, resulting in the most efficient shooting team in the NCAA, hitting over 52% of their shots.

But that was last year. This is 2022 and the Bulldog roster is different. Instead of having one seasoned point guard (Andrew Nembhard, now in the NBA), the Zags put sophomore Nolan Hickman on offense and a group of guards who are still adjusting to the role of more ball-handling.

Hickman, who sat out last night’s loss with what appeared to be an ankle injury, is talented enough to do the job. He just lacks experience.

Michigan State taught him — and the Zags — lessons. So he did Texas. Those games combined, Gonzaga made 48 field goals. The Bulldogs had 18 assists. A 37.5% assist rate is indicative of their offensive issues. So is their assist-to-turnover ratio. Last year it was 1.56 to 1. Against MSU and Texas? That wasn’t good, with 25 assists on 38 turnovers. That’s a ratio of 0.657 to 1 for us non-math nerds.

Even with these problems, Gonzaga found a way to win against Michigan State. That’s not something Sunday’s Arena opponent, fourth-ranked Kentucky, can say. But the Wildcats have the ability, when properly motivated, to play defense on a level just below Texas and Arkansas. And they will be motivated against OJ. Count.

Unless the Zags take care of the ball and trust their offense (and each other), it could be another long night.

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USU: Welcome back Renard Bell. The 111th-year senior has been out the last four games with an injury, but he should be able to play Saturday at Arizona. His presence, even in a limited role, will aid Cougar’s attack. Colton Clark has all the details in this story. … The offensive line is still evolving due to injuries. Colton reviews it in this notebook. … Where is Arizona heading into Saturday’s game? … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, Jon Wilner’s bowl predictions appeared this morning on SR. He also has his picks of him for this week in the Mercury News. … Washington is close to being really good. To take the next step, it will depend on the recruitment. … The question for the Battle of LA is simple. Can either team stop the other? Both USC and UCLA have great offenses and questionable defenses. … Cade McKown knows a thing or two about defeating rival Trojans. But is this rivalry on its last legs as nationally important? … Oregon has some areas to shore up. And some players to worry about. … Oregon State trusts its offensive line. … It was a learning experience for a Colorado freshman. … Tavion Thomas is once again unleashing the running game in Utah. … Arizona State is still trying to beef up its offensive line. … In basketball news, the Pac-12’s commitment to playing HBCU on their floor is admirable but could cost the conference in the NET rankings. Especially after three recent defeats. … Washington has a secret weapon. … The state of Oregon has turned to a relocation for help. … Colorado wants to build on its win at Tennessee. … Arizona is home to Utah Tech. … USC gets a commitment from the best recruit in the nation. … The state of Arizona rallied for a victory. …Stanford women top this power ranking.

Gonzaga: Turnovers have come up often in Jim Meehan’s game story this morning. As well as a porous defensive effort. … Theo Lawson was also in Austin and he has this story about Hickman’s injury and the difference makers. … Discussions between Gonzaga and the Big 12 seem to be intensifying. Theo knows better. …Tyler Tjomsland was also in Austin and has this photo gallery. … The people in the office have the summary with the highlights. … The Gonzaga women’s soccer team signed three players this week from local high schools. Justin Reed has more to this story. … Back to basketball, the win over GU moved Texas to the top of this power ranking. … Elsewhere in the WCC, BYU led its bench in a win against Missouri State.

EWU: Eastern hosts Northern Colorado this Saturday, hoping to get a home win for the first time since week one of the season. Dan Thompson has this preview. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Commissioner Tom Wistrcill spoke before the fight. … Montana has some backfield problems. … A former Griz player is helping Montana State. … Weber State wants some momentum going into the postseason. … In basketball news, Northern Arizona pulled in a win.

Idaho: The Vandals hosted Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday. They had trouble scoring and fell 52-43. Peter Harriman has the story.

Preparations: State volleyball is on this weekend, with Mead and Mt. Spokane among the 3A favorites. Madison McCord previews tournaments for GSL schools. … If you enjoyed watching the school’s small state track meet the best part of the past three decades at Eastern, you’re out of luck in 2023. The meet moves to Yakima.

sailors: Teoscar Hernandez was an all-star in the not too distant past. He is also entering his final year in control of the club. And now he’s a Mariner, after the club struck a deal with Toronto. Seattle sent two pitchers to the Jays.

Seahawks: Pete Carroll thinks the Hawks are in good shape. Of course he does. … Tre Brown has to fit in somewhere.

kraken: After another overtime loss, Seattle worked to a three-on-three game.

Sirens: Alliance members voted to keep Garth Lagerwey in charge of the franchise.

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• We’re not sure Hernandez will do for the M’s what he did for Toronto. His numbers have declined in each of the past three seasons. But if he bounces just a little, that’s a great addition. Until late …

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