Three keys to the Zags’ recent hot streak

click to enlarge Ya heard? - ERICK DOXEY
Erick Doxey
Ya heard?

Gonzaga has always been known for elite offensive execution and efficiency. Under Mark Few, the team has never had a season outside of the top 50 in offensive efficiency. For the past four seasons, including this one, they’ve ranked top nationally in that category. Six times they’ve ranked in the top five, and three times they’ve ranked first overall. The point is, Zag fans are used to seeing the team score the ball often and with ease.

They’re not used to anything like what the Zags have been doing over the past three games, though. Gonzaga’s offense has been firing on all cylinders.


The Zags opened league play by scoring 117 points against Pepperdine. That was at home, against arguably the worst team in the WCC. Impressive, but not entirely unexpected. Pepperdine plays fast, but not well, and Gonzaga plays fast and well. A perfect storm for scoring 100-plus.

Then, on Thursday, the Zags followed that up by dropping 110 against BYU. Again at home, but BYU is arguably the best team in the WCC besides Gonzaga. The Cougars have taken down Gonzaga in Spokane before, and they’ve done it in years when Gonzaga’s been as highly ranked as they are now. Not this time.

A day and a half later and a plane ride away at Santa Clara, in the Zags’ first true road game of the season, they did it again. This time scoring 115 points in a rout of the Broncos. For the first time in program history, the Zags topped 100 points in three consecutive games.


The Zags’ high-octane offense has been fueled in part by the team’s willingness to share the ball. Over the past three games, they’ve racked up 80 assists on 132 made baskets. That’s an assist on more than 60 percent of the team’s buckets.

Point guard Andrew Nembhard has been responsible for 26 of those 80 assists, for an average of 8.7 per game. His season average has risen to 5.3 assists per game as a result of his recent explosion. Against BYU he dished out 12, setting a new career-high since transferring from Florida two seasons ago.

It hasn’t just been Nembhard, though. Rasir Bolton (2.8 assists per game) has been above his season average in assists in each of the past three games.

All this sharing of the ball has led to some incredibly balanced scoring columns in the final box scores. Six players reached double-figures in scoring against Pepperdine, four did against BYU, and six reached that mark against Santa Clara. What’s even more impressive is that Drew Timme scored 32 points against Santa Clara, but there was still enough scoring to go around for five other players to score 10-plus.


The other fuel powering Gonzaga’s offensive fire has been speed. The Zags have been an up-tempo team in recent years that put a strong emphasis on quickness in transition. For the season, they’ve been averaging the fifth most possessions per game in the country.

"Coach is always on us to push the ball, make it a high-possession game," Timme said after the BYU game.

In that one, the Zags played 78 possessions, four more than they average on the season. So, it was a higher-possession game than they’re used to. But it was a snail’s pace compared to the other two league games they’ve played.

Against Pepperdine, the Zags ran off 90 possessions, their most in a non-overtime game over the past 20 years, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy. On Saturday at Santa Clara, the Zags did it again. The team did something it had never done since statistics on pace of play were introduced, and then did it again a week later.


Gonzaga was scheduled to play on the road at Pacific on Thursday, but that game was postponed when the Tigers went on a COVID pause last week. With a scheduled bye on Saturday, that left the Zags with the potential of a week-plus layoff. The league intervened and tinkered with the schedules. San Francisco (15-3, 2-1) was supposed to play Portland on Thursday, but instead, that game has been postponed, and the Dons will now travel to Spokane. The game will air on CBS Sports Network at 8 pm on Jan. 20.

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