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Zags try to get back on track

An interesting day on the roads. It took about 55 minutes (normal trip 25-30) to get to Gonzaga for media day because traffic was backed up on I-90 from a vehicle spin-out near Barker Road. Later, I was stuck, briefly, in a carefully selected parking spot at NIC and, to cap off the evening, a good Samaritan with 4-wheel drive helped pull my wife’s van out of a snowbank midway up an icy hill. That was interesting.

GU coach Mark Few mentioned that he and several neighbors spent part of Saturday helping a neighbor whose barn had collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Enough of the weather. An unedited Zag notebook below. Also, Tennessee’s Wayne Chism was hurt in the Vols’ win Monday night. GU visits the Vols on Jan. 7th.


By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Less than three weeks ago, the Gonzaga Bulldogs were 7-0 and ranked No. 4. They had just defeated Washington State in Pullman with an impressive second-half surge. National pundits were mentioning Gonzaga as a legitimate Final Four contender.

But the Bulldogs (8-3) have absorbed three losses in four games and they’ve dropped to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll, No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.

The three losses had similar characteristics. Gonzaga was outrebounded in two of the three (by 10 against Connecticut and by 9 vs. Portland State). The Bulldogs allowed 69 points to Arizona, a season-high 88 in the overtime loss to UConn and 77 to Portland State, the second highest total against GU.

And all three games were there for the taking in the closing minutes. Gonzaga rallied to tie Arizona at 62, but the Wildcats closed it out with a 7-2 run. The Bulldogs led by as many as 11 and still were up four with under two minutes to play against Connecticut. The Huskies tied it with a late 3-pointer and outscored Gonzaga 14-9 in overtime.

The Bulldogs led Portland State 69-67 last Tuesday after Jeremy Pargo’s three-point play with 2:16 left. The Vikings scored 10 of the last 11 points as Gonzaga went 0 of 5 from the floor and 1 of 2 at the free-throw line.

“Rebounding has really been a common problem,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team faces Utah in Salt Lake City on New Year’s Eve. “Those are probably our three worst defensive games. And they’ve all been about one-minute games and you have to have guys step up and make plays at the end of games.

“The best thing about this group is their versatility and there’s some good balance. The worst thing about this group is there’s just not one guy that can step up and make a play that we’ve had in the past, whether it was Adam (Morrison) or Blake (Stepp) or Ronny (Turiaf), so that’s been difficult. We just haven’t had a guy really make that big of a basket at the end of the game.”

Following the loss to Portland State, sophomore guard Steven Gray pointed to two key areas.

“Defense is something we prided ourselves on for the first part of the year,” Gray said. “We saw that slide a little bit against Arizona. … And just following the game plan. We tend to stray away from things as games go on, so we definitely need to get better at taking the game plan and going out and executing.”

Gonzaga needs to follow its formula for success, Few said. “I’ve seen them in practice, I’ve seen what they’re capable of doing and when we play to our strengths we’re pretty good. And when we don’t we’re pretty vulnerable, especially when we’re down a guy or two.”

Family matters

Few’s wife, Marcy, is pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. She’s actually a couple days past her due date. Few is waiting to see what happens in the hours leading up to the Utah game before determining when or if he’ll be able to go to Salt Lake City.

Sacre update

There is nothing definitive on sophomore center Robert Sacre’s re-injured foot, but his return doesn’t appear to be imminent. Sacre has missed GU’s last four games.

“He’s in Seattle (on Monday) to get it checked,” Few said. “It’s definitely cracked. It’s going to be a while, if indeed he even plays again this year.

“It’s amazing the dynamics of losing him, but somebody needs to step up. Rob was providing great energy, great rebounding and great defensive presence. We’ve been missing that, we really have.”

Back at work

Gonzaga returned to practice Saturday, but there were only seven players on hand for the first post-Christmas session because a few were stymied by travel issues. Freshman guard Demetri Goodson returned in time to practice Sunday night and reserve center Will Foster’s first practice was Monday morning.

“We need to come back and really get our mojo back,” junior guard Matt Bouldin said. “Coach (Few) is really pushing us hard right now, but we deserve it. It’s good for us.”

Not so good was watching the video of the Portland State game.

“That wasn’t fun,” Bouldin said, “but we needed to go through it.”

 


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Jim Allen Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jim Meehan Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Josh Wright Josh Wright is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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Vince Grippi is the online producer for SportsLink, a product of The Spokesman-Review.

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