Seattle, WA – The Gonzaga Bulldogs jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead behind 20 first half points from 6-10 sophomore standout Domantas Sabonis and were able to hold off a second half rim-attack by the Tennessee Volunteers for a 86-79 victory.
Sabonis dominated Tennessee’s interior defense in route to a career high 36-point night in the paint, converting an array of left-handed finishes off of early duck-ins and seals going right over the top of Tennessee’s smaller defenders. The only obstacle for Sabonis all night was foul trouble, as he almost single-handedly outscored the entire Tennessee team 20-24 prior to checking out with 4:18 left in the first half with two fouls. Sabonis’ combination of positional size and NBA ready body overwhelmed the Volunteers to the point Tennessee coach Rick Barnes made the decision to start to doubling Sabonis on the catch right from the start of the second half, spear-heading more Gonzaga turnovers and the Volunteers’ ability to get out in transition to score to even the game out. Sabonis still remained effective with his high energy level on the glass (16 total rebounds) and soft hands catching and finishing around the basket (most notably on a dump-off pass from 6-10 senior forward Kyle Wiltjer late in the second half). This was the best night of the 19 year-old’s young career.
The aforementioned Wiltjer, the sweet-shooting senior forward and other half of Gonzaga’s marquee 1-2 punch, chipped in with 24 points and iced the game down the stretch at the foul line. Despite his lack of athleticism, Wiltjer’s size, skill-level and shooting range allowed him to get to his spots and shoot over smaller Tennessee defenders. Plagued with foul trouble the entire night, 6-2 freshman guard Josh Perkins was never able to get into the rhythm of the game, registering just two points in 19 minutes of action, making the Zags even more reliable on their two stars with 7-1 senior center Przemek Karnowski already out due to a back injury.
As for the Volunteers, 6-2 senior guard Kevin Punter led the way with 23 points and five assists. Punter’s comfort in middle pick and roll kept the game in reach in the first half. This was Tennessee’s only real source of half court offense operating predominately off double high pick and roll sets. Despite a lack of first step and explosive finishing ability, the Vols’ top scorer has a soft-touch floater near the basket and can shoot off the bounce turning the corner. Combined with his catch and shoot three point ability Punter showcased his versatile scoring prowess. Fellow 6-4 undersized senior forward Armani Moore added 16 points and five rebounds, with two rim contests that exemplified his range defensively. Moore was able to get into the paint on several occasions in the second half on straight line drives where his fluid body control and ability to finish with either hand was displayed.
The Volunteers were best running out in transition, which they were unable to do in the first half with Gonzaga only committing one turnover. In the second half, 6-4 senior guard Devon Baulkman led the charge on the break utilizing Tennessee’s speed to finish before the Zags set their defense. The Volunteers had some success running the weave offense late in the game with a plethora of dribble hand-offs trying to draw Gonzaga’s bigs out of the paint and create driving lanes to convert at the hoop with the Zags lack of rim protection missing Karnowski. The Volunteers tried to isolate Sabonis down the stretch as he had four fouls. They attacked his body in space, but the Zags did an excellent job switching him off the screener late to preserve both Sabonis and ultimately the victory.
The official crowd at the Key Arena was 16,770, the largest crowd in the 13 years Gonzaga has played in the Battle in Seattle.
This article was written by Cole Zwicker, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
Any international players interested in coming to the USA to play in college, prep school or high school can contact us here. We are looking for interns and sales associates. If you’re interested contact us and forward your resume.