Dan Dickau: Gonzaga’s lock-down defense will once again be key in Final Four vs South Carolina

Mar 31, 2017, 1:39 PM | Updated: 1:40 pm
Gonzaga's 7-foot center Przemek Karnowski "just guards the whole lane," Dan Dickau said. (AP)...
Gonzaga's 7-foot center Przemek Karnowski "just guards the whole lane," Dan Dickau said. (AP)
LISTEN: Gonzaga great Dan Dickau previews Zags' first-ever Final Four

On Saturday afternoon, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will take the court at University of Phoenix Stadium in the program’s first-ever Final Four game. That contest against South Carolina has been a long time coming, as it took the Zags 19 straight NCAA Tournament appearances before they broke through to the national semifinals.

But now that they’re there, the question is if they can keep going.

Dan Dickau, a college basketball analyst who a star for Gonzaga during its 2001 and 2002 Tournament appearances, has high hopes the Zags can turn the Final Four into just a step on their way to a potential national championship. The reason why is their defense, which is ranked first in efficiency in the country and has been their saving grace throughout the tournament.

Role reversal for Gonzaga in Final Four against South Carolina

“The coaching staff does a really good job of figuring out, ‘What do we want to make this opponent do, and what do we want to keep them from doing? Because this is their strength,'” Dickau told “Brock and Salk” Friday morning. “So they come up with a great game plan, and then I call it scouting report defense – apply the scouting report on as many possessions as possible. And if you do that consistently, you’re going to have success.”

That the Zags have. Though not traditionally a lock-down defensive team, they’ve limited opponents to just 60.9 points per game this season, fifth-best in the NCAA. Dickau said Gonzaga’s personnel this season, which features a regular rotation with four players over 6-foot-9 players and none under 6-3, has made the Bulldogs so stingy on D.

“They’ve got guys this year that they haven’t had that have the versatility to do a better job of applying that scouting report,” Dickau said. “Their guards are bigger than Gonzaga guards have been in the past, (and) they do a really good job of sliding their feet, staying in front, making you shoot over the top. And then when you look at their four-man rotation of bigs, Pzemek (Karnowski) just guards the whole lane. He makes everything difficult. He does a great job staying vertical, because he’s not a great shot blocker, he stays vertical and contests. And then the other three bigs in (Zach) Collins, Johnathan Williams and (Killian) Tillie are as versatile as bigs I think you’ll find in college basketball on the defensive end. They can switch almost one through five, they can get out and guard pick-and-rolls and hedge and trap and give their guards time to get back in front. They’re very active, they’re shot blockers, and they also understand the game at a high level.”

Gonzaga will need its defense to be as efficient as possible in Saturday’s duel with South Carolina. Not only do the Gamecocks have a strong defense of their own, holding opponents to 64.9 points per game, they also have a proven offensive star in 6-5 senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, who averages 21.6 points per game and is a matchup problem for most teams.

“He’s been playing as well as anybody from the wing spot in this NCAA Tournament, so you gotta limit him,” Dickau said of Thornwell. “You’re not gonna take him fully away. Just make him really work and earn his points, his buckets. Just take him off the glass. And if you can get stops, you can get out in transition. … One of the ways that you can kind of attack (South Carolina) is if you get stops yourself, you can push it in transition and don’t allow the defense to get set up because that’s where South Carolina really hangs its hat. It’s in the half court where their defense is so good.”

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Dan Dickau: Gonzaga’s lock-down defense will once again be key in Final Four vs South Carolina