The #22 Washington Huskies host #9 Gonzaga on Sunday in what should be a raucous environment for the latest edition of a rivalry that has been thoroughly one-sided of late. In order to learn more about what Washington can expect we spoke to Peter Woodburn over at The Slipper Still Fits. Read on below to see what a Gonzaga contributor thinks about the team and their chances taking on the Dawgs in Seattle
UWDP- This is essentially a new Gonzaga roster without a pair of 1st round draft picks (Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke) as well as starting guards Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins. A WCC title and NCAA tournament berth are minimum default expectations for Gonzaga every year but coming into the season how did most fans feel this year’s team compared to recent editions of the team and how close have they come to meeting those expectations so far?
TSSF- It depends on who you ask. There are quite a few the glass is always completely full Gonzaga fans who are convinced that this year, like every year, is the year. Generally speaking, although the incoming recruiting class is one of the best the Zags have ever secured, as noted by all the players you listed who departed, expectations were a bit tempered going into this year. The Zags looked stellar to start it all off, but that was also largely because they were playing rather overmatched competition. This current swing of games, at UW, at Arizona, and home vs. UNC is the stretch we’ve been waiting for to draw some real conclusions.
UWDP- Gonzaga went 2-1 at the Battle 4 Atlantis with wins over Southern Mississippi and Oregon before getting soundly beaten in the final by Michigan. What did you learn about this team at the event and what’s the status of the several key contributors who got banged up over the course of the 3 days?
TSSF- The Battle 4 Atlantis was wild because on Day 1 Gonzaga lost three players to injury in 40 minutes. Luckily, Killian Tillie was able to play the rest of the time, but freshman Anton Watson, who was probably the best defender on the squad, is out with an ankle injury and has no immediate timetable for return. Ryan Woolridge looks to be alright, but Admon Gilder is a question mark. Mark Few said he was still in some discomfort, and Joel Ayayi started over him for the first time this season on Wednesday. So, there are the injuries.
The Oregon game, in which the Zags were heavily short-handed, showed this team has a lot of guts. They competed their rear ends off for 40+ minutes to squeak out that win. Then the wheels came off against Michigan, and that is where the youth/inexperience showed. Gonzaga lost SO much from last year, the only players who played meaningful minutes together last season are Corey Kispert, Filip Petrusev, and Killian Tillie--and due to Petrusev’s freshman year and Tillie’s injury a year ago, that is even limited. This team, especially on defense, still has quite a bit of gelling that needs to occur. Like Washington, I think Gonzaga is going to be in a lot better space by the time March rolls around.
UWDP- Filip Petrusev has seemingly taken up the mantle of dominant Gonzaga big man as a sophomore and is averaging 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game (up from 6.5 and 2.7 last year). What has he done to improve his game and do you think he’ll have success working against Isaiah Stewart down low?
TSSF- Petrusev was always an efficient and fundamentally sound big man playing that European style Mark Few likes. Last year, the big issue was his defense, and that is sort of what removed him from the rotation as the year continued (and as Killian Tillie returned). That said, Isaiah Stewart presents an interesting challenge for Petrusev. He has a tough time finishing through contact, sometimes shying completely away from it. Petrusev got absolutely worked by Michigan’s senior behemoth Jon Teske. Stewart isn’t a little man by any stretch, so if history still means anything, he might have a good deal of success playing aggressively and hard against the Gonzaga sophomore.
UWDP- Gonzaga is starting a pair of transfer guards in Ryan Woolridge (North Texas) and Admon Gilder (Texas A&M). How have each performed this season and are they living up to fan expectations?
TSSF- Each player has exceeded expectations I think, mainly because no one had any idea what to think of coming in. A lot of fans discounted Ryan Woolridge because he played at North Texas and not a bigger school, and Admon Gilder missed all of last season with a blood clot. Woolridge, especially, has been a huge boon to the program because the Zags were a large large question mark at point guard before he arrived. Outside of free throw shooting, he has been awesome to watch, and provides a nice style difference from Gilder and Ayayi. Both players are also pretty good defenders, better than Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell, as well.
UWDP- Last season the Dawgs were a near buzzer beater by Rui Hachimura away from pulling a huge upset in Spokane over a Gonzaga team I picked to win the national title. What is your score prediction for this year with the game in Seattle?
TSSF- I gotta nod my head to the home-court advantage this time around. I think this game is going to be close and I think this game is going to be wild. Both UW and Gonzaga have uber-talented teams that have not played together for very long, and I think we will see some awesome dunks, some stellar play, and some boneheaded turnovers all at the same time. That said, just like Rui was able to his that buzzer beater last year, I think that UW is going to be able to clamp down with their defense and hold the Zags off. The zone is always a beast, even for veteran teams to handle. Gonzaga’s too young and hasn’t seen it before, especially from the likes of UW’s length. I think Gonzaga’s offense keeps them in it, but ultimately, UW’s defense gives the Huskies the win.
Washington- 77, Gonzaga- 74
Thanks again to Peter Woodburn! You can follow his Gonzaga content @slipperstillfit and you can follow me @UWDP_maxvroom for all your UW men’s basketball news and notes