Sunday, April 21, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Perfect Zags? They've got that look so far

| December 27, 2020 1:25 AM

They can’t really win every game.

It’s silly just to consider such a thing.

Isn’t it?

Logic and metrics say Gonzaga can’t possibly run the table, and march to an NCAA championship unbeaten.

But, brother…

When you watch the Zags take apart Virginia — a team picked to win the ACC — in a 98-75 laugher, you start to wonder.

Consider some numbers…

Virginia’s controlled offense and historically hard-working defense means untroubled ball possession for the Cavaliers.

They came into Saturday’s showdown in Texas averaging just eight turnovers per game.

Gonzaga forced them into 15 giveaways, which were converted into a whopping 27 points.

That is simply imposing YOUR will on an opponent, creating mistakes that speed up the game to your preferred tempo — and never mind Virginia’s hope of slowing things down.

AGAINST a team selected to win the most prestigious conference in the country, the Zags basically emptied the bench with six minutes remaining.

The Zags chose not to put a hundred on the proud Cavs, with guard Dominick Harris grabbing an offensive rebound, declining to shoot and simply dribbling out the last 15 seconds.

Here is another number that should get your attention…

Gonzaga racked up 26 assists on 35 hoops in this game, and it’s a basketball item of truth that when you share the rock quickly and wisely, you get open shots.

The Zags did that, shredding Virginia’s famous “Pack Line” defense both inside and out.

Drew Timme was pretty much unstoppable around the hoop, so when Virginia collapsed, Corey Kispert was free to drain 9 of 13 from 3-point range — or Joel Ayayi, Andrew Nembhard, Jalen Suggs and Aaron Cook could surge downhill on power drives to the bucket.

It’s been a long time since someone made the game look so easy against Virginia.

The Zags moved the ball with such precision that someone was wide open on almost every possession.

That’s not supposed to happen in a game that the Cavaliers were planning to play in the 60s.

The ease with which the Zags did it honestly does make you wonder if there’s a team out there that can hang a loss on these guys.

Baylor, maybe?

It’s a shame that matchup was cancelled, but it very well could happen in the Final Four.

I WANT to keep reminding everyone that an unbeaten season is just mathematically, um…

Almost impossible.

It is, really.

But something these Zags are doing makes me seriously wonder if they can produce winning magic whenever necessary.

I tossed some numbers out to start this discussion, but here’s the one that allows me to think of actually going unbeaten…

The Zags came into the Virginia game shooting an unhelpful 34 percent from 3-point range.

And yet, when long-range shots were needed against Iowa, Suggs knocked down seven in the first half.

Now here’s stingy Virginia, a team that dares you to shoot from outside, and Kispert kills them with nine from downtown.

It’s almost like these guys can do it at will, and even take turns catching fire, you know…

Just for the hell of it.

Just for fun.

“SHOOTERS shoot,” Kispert said after the Virginia blowout, and made sure to add that all the Zags have the green light — and that every one of them can knock down big 3-balls.

Corey was seriously suggesting that, never mind that 34 percent number, almost the whole roster can light it up — and we’ll see that eventually.

If the Zags can produce top-tier shooting along with their transition baskets and peerless rhythm on offense, maybe there is NOT another team that can hang a loss on them.

National basketball writer Dana O’Neil wrote a piece on Gonzaga for The Athletic.

She called the Zags, “The perfect team for an imperfect season.”
 Amen to that.


Can they actually stay perfect?

Literally perfect?

You know, like when Anton Watson hits 10 3-pointers in a Final Four game.

Just for fun.

Is that what we’re seeing?

For real?


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which will be published on Thursday this week, then on Tuesdays during the WCC conference season.