Inside the Numbers: Was it Gonzaga, or was it the UVA D?

jalen suggs gonzaga

Jalen Suggs drives to the basket against UVA defender Tomas Woldetensae. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Gonzaga jumped out to an early 18-5 lead, and after a brief flurry got UVA briefly back to single digits, it was a safe ‘Zags game the rest of the way.

Your eyes tell you Virginia never had a chance.

The numbers tell you that it wasn’t that: that it was execution, by Gonzaga, and unthinkable, though not inexplicable, when you dive into it, defensive lapses from Virginia.

It was also, certainly, a bit of Corey Kispert going bonkers from three – though to be fair, Kispert, coming in, was a 45.9 percent shooter from long-range, and with a volume (6.2 attempts per game) that would suggest he’s the real deal.

Virginia actually ended up getting the pace Tony Bennett would want. Gonzaga ended up with 66 possessions, 10 below its season average, and closer to the 60.9 per game that UVA averages.

This after a rather frenetic pace for the game’s first 12+ – Gonzaga had 24 possessions in the first 12:28, which was a 77.4-possession pace, in line with what the ‘Zags had been averaging coming in (76.9).

Ergo, the Bulldogs (their official nickname, which nobody east of Spokane seems to ever use) had 42 possessions in the final 27:32 – that’s a 60.8-possession pace for 40 minutes, precisely a UVA tempo.

Gonzaga outscored Virginia 67-59 over that stretch – beating the ‘Hoos at their own game.

How?

Kispert had 19 of his game-high 32 points in the final 27:32, on 7-of-10 shooting – 5-of-8 from three.

Nothing special – he just hit shots, a hand in his face, almost every time, but never to the point where he was ever knocked out of his rhythm.

The bulk of the damage in the final 27:32 was from 6’10” sophomore Drew Timme, who scored 22 of his 29 points after the game slowed down.

Timme was 7-of-12 from the field and 8-of-10 from the line in the final 27:32.

All seven of his makes: layups.

Layups were the name of the game for the ‘Zags: to the tune of 21 makes in 29 shots at the rim on the afternoon.

With emphasis: 21-of-29, 16 of the makes (on 21 attempts) coming in the final 27:32.

I went back through the past 73 UVA games, dating back to the 2018-2019 opener.

Virginia opponents, from November 2018 coming into Saturday, had averaged 16.4 shots at the rim per game, and shot 53.7 percent on those shots.

Gonzaga nearly doubled the shot attempts, and nearly tripled the makes.

Not making excuses, but how much of that is having so many new guys – Sam Hauser (33 minutes), Reece Beekman (29), Trey Murphy III (27), Kadin Shedrick (9) – who are still feeling their way around what their responsibilities are in the Pack Line?

You knew coming in that Gonzaga likes to run – Virginia did as well as it could limiting that part of the game for the ‘Zags, who had a modest 12-7 advantage in fast-break points.

You also knew that their half-court offense is lots of screen-and-roll and ball-screen action.

The Pack Line aims to take away the screen game by doubling the ball-handler, which then puts the onus on the help defense behind to pick up the slip screen.

The 21-of-29 at the rim – 12-of-14 in the second half – tells us there is work to be done there.

The average UVA opponent over the past three years – this includes 34 ACC games, the entirety of the 2019 tournament – was 9-of-16 at the rim.

A look inside the numbers would suggest that, you clean even just that part up – that’s 24 points.

Kispert, then, goes 6-of-13 – that’s another nine.

Just clean up the D, and this game – in March, early April – is a different ballgame.

Again, not making excuses, but get the new guys some reps in the Pack Line, and this is a different team.

But, the work is cut out for them.

Story by Chris Graham


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