It turns out that legendary Utah Utes coach and current ESPN basketball analyst Rick Majerus' take was right on the mark. The Zags held Rice to 29.5% from the field last night – the single lowest field goal percentage that the Zags have held any opponent to since the 2003/04 season. Last year's GU team wasn't able to hold any opponent to under 34%.
While Rice lacks no real consistent offensive threat besides Morris Almond, there are four things that stood out from last night that appear to be helping GU's defense this season:
1. The shotblocking presence of Josh Heytvelt and Abdullahi Kuso is allowing GU's perimeter people to pressure the ball more.
3. Using a 3-guard set is allowing Coach Few to better cover up some of the defensive deficiencies of Derek Raivio. D-Rav's issues on defense have never been effort-related, but more having to do with his lack of strength when containing dribble penetration from powerful guards. Nearly every team GU will face this season will have at least one guy that plays the 1, 2 or 3 that is not adept at putting the ball on the floor. Having PMAC and Pargo out there allows Few to assign D-Rav that player. Without having to worry about dribble penetration, Raivio is then able to concentrate on his strength as a defender: generating steals.
4. The coaching staff is effectively communicating to the players that if they want to win, they must focus on defense more than they have recently. There just seems to be more effort and more attentiveness to this aspect of the game.
This was just one game against an offensively challenged team, but if the Zags can muster this kind of effort against most opponents, it is going to allow them to put away a lot of teams and to weather the storm during game phases when the offense is sputtering.
Josh Heytvelt is coming of age thus far this, his Redshirt-Sophomore year, and is performing at a high level. Is his game perfect? Of cource not. Passing out of double- and triple-teams to slashing or spotted-up teammates is one area that needs work. But the effort, mentality and confidence is visible. 25 points, 11 boards, and he sat a good many minutes to either catch his breath or watch the bench play (final 8 minutes).
Gonzaga's guard scoring is a blessing this year. There appears to be a hot guard or two to pick up the slack of another guard who is having an off-night. And the new, improved attacking fastbreak offense suits them nicely.
Having at least one steadying presence on the court is also a luxury, and Sean Mallon has quietly filled that role. And Matt Bouldin, still getting up to D1 speed, appears to have that quality about him, too.
Josh Heytvelt battled all night long and usually won.
Very few guards in basketball are faster than PMAC.
Jeremy Pargo reacts after earning an And-1 opportunity.
Heytvelt scores another duece from down low, over the Owls.
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