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Gonzaga gets defensive

All kinds of Zags’ stuff to post, with the main item an article on Gonzaga’s defense that will run in Thursday’s S-R (for that, you have to read to the bottom). This is a long one because we have to cut-and-paste, but read on.

 


First up, GU was honored with the men’s (Matt Bouldin) and women’s (Courtney Vandersloot) WCC players of the month for January. More here.

We have a brief look at Portland and a couple of notes that will run on our Four Corners college basketball page Thursday:

GONZAGA

RECORD: 16-4, 7-0 WCC

COMING UP: Tonight at Portland, 8 p.m.; Saturday vs. Memphis, 6 p.m. (Spokane Arena)

OUTLOOK: The Pilots have won six straight, all but one by at least 14 points, since falling 67-50 to Gonzaga on Jan. 10. A Portland victory would create a first-place tie while a Gonzaga win would give the Bulldogs a season sweep and a two-game bulge in the WCC standings. Portland is 10-1 at home, the lone loss to Eastern Washington in early December. The Pilots rank seventh nationally in 3-point accuracy (40.6 percent). Nik Raivio, younger brother of ex-Bulldog Derek Raivio, averages 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds. Gonzaga has won 11 straight in the series, including a 73-51 win at the Chiles Center last year. In that one, the Zags trailed by a point with 12 minutes left but finished with a 34-11 surge. No. 14 Memphis, riding a 12-game winning streak, has defeated Gonzaga each of the last three seasons.

 

GU NOTES

Roadrunners to visit GU

Gonzaga will conclude the 2010 regular season with a non-conference home game against Cal State Bakersfield on March 2, according to a Bakersfield newspaper. The Roadrunners, 6-15 this season, will be in the final season of their transition from NCAA Division II to D-I.

The Bulldogs entertain South Carolina Upstate on March 3. The games against USC-Upstate and Cal State Bakersfield fill a void in the schedule between the end of WCC play and the conference tournament.

 

Dates set for Coaches vs. Cancer

The eighth annual Coaches vs. Cancer, co-chaired by Mark and Marcy Few, will be Aug. 28-29. The event includes a two-day golf tournament and a black-tie gala at the Davenport Hotel, emcees by ESPN’s Jay Bilas.

The first seven Coaches vs. Cancer events have raised more than $3.3 million to help the fight against cancer.

Donations can be made at www.gucoachesvscancer.com or by texting ‘cvc’ to 20222. A one-time $5 charge will be added to your mobile phone bill.

 

—There’s an interesting blog post from Portland.

—There’s some fan news regarding Saturday’s ESPN GameDay broadcasts for the Gonzaga-Memphis games here.

Finally, my article on GU’s defense…

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

PORTLANDPortland men’s basketball coach Eric Reveno was watching tape of last month’s game against Gonzaga when a play caught his eye. Pilots center Kramer Knutson had worked for an opening inside and attempted a short, left-handed hook.

Knutson’s shot missed, in part because the 6-foot-9 sophomore had to account for the wing span of 7-5 Bulldog Will Foster.

“He makes that shot against most people,” Reveno said. “For years, since I was (an assistant) at Stanford, I have been a fan of Gonzaga’s defense with their length and the things they do to disrupt you.”

Statistically, Gonzaga’s defense has perhaps never been better. The Bulldogs rank second nationally in field-goal percentage defense (36.2) and that figure dwindles to 33.9 percent in West Coast Conference games. Since 1959 when Gonzaga started playing a Division I schedule, its best field-goal percentage defense was in 2004 (38.3).

GU limited Portland, one of the more efficient offenses in the WCC and No. 64 out of 330 teams nationally in field-goal percentage at 46.3, to 32.7 percent in last month’s 67-50 win in Spokane. The 50 points was Portland’s second lowest output of the season.

The rematch is tonight at the Chiles Center and one of the keys will center on Gonzaga’s ability to control the Pilots’ lethal perimeter shooting. T.J. Campbell leads the WCC in 3-point accuracy (52.2 percent), Jared Stohl is third at 46.2 and Ethan Niedermeyer is sixth at 40.8. In conference games, the Pilots make 47.3 percent of their 3s, nearly 10 percentage points higher than No. 2 Gonzaga (38.1).

Another key: Can the Bulldogs continue their success defending Portland wing Nik Raivio? The younger brother of ex-Zag Derek Raivio, who leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points, has made just 5 of 21 shots in two games against Gonzaga. He missed last year’s contest in Portland with a knee injury.

Long known for offense, Gonzaga’s defense has more than carried its weight this season. Only five opponents have shot above 40 percent against GU. Four (Arizona, Utah, Connecticut and Portland State) came away winners. Saint Mary’s, which lost Patty Mills to an injury late in the first half, shot 41 percent and lost by seven.

“It’s something the coaches try to enforce and emphasize,” senior forward Josh Heytvelt said. “There was so much offensive talent when I first got here with Adam (Morrison), Derek (Raivio), J.P. (Batista) and Ronny (Turiaf), we could outscore teams instead of defend and play that way.”

Jerry Krause, in his eighth season as director of basketball operations, tracks Gonzaga’s defensive efficiency ratings (DER), which measures opponents’ points per possession. GU’s goal is 0.90, just under a point per possession. The Bulldogs are at 0.90 for non-conference games, 0.85 in conference and 0.88 overall.

“We’ve never had that,” Krause said. “We’ve been hovering in the 1.0 to 1.05 range the past few years.”

Krause said the improvement reflects the emphasis of the coaching staff.

“What you teach is what you tend to get, what you measure is what you tend to get and the bottom line is what you demand is what you tend to get,” Krause said. “Our coaches have great strength offensively, but I think they’ve spent more of their teaching emphasis and they’re demanding more defense than ever before.”

Lately, the Bulldogs have been switching on most screens, which can lead to mismatches, but they’ve been able to adjust.

“We have big guards that are versatile and can handle themselves in the post,” head coach Mark Few said. “For the most part our bigs have done a nice job of getting down in stances and guarding some people quicker than them.

“The team has also made sure that we’re just not switching out and everyone just guards a guy. We’ve done a good job of covering for each other if Josh is out there and covering a point, he’s not seeing a whole lot of floor to maybe try to take him. Conversely if Steven (Gray) is guarding a big we have help side and guys making sure we help him.”

Austin Daye, who is on pace to break the school’s single-season blocks record, and Micah Downs bring length, which often forces perimeter shooters and interior players to alter their shots.

Heytvelt has had a solid defensive season against conference rivals John Bryant, Omar Samhan and Gyno Pomare, as well as high-profile centers Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut and Wayne Chism of Tennessee. Gonzaga awards a defensive player of the game and Heytvelt has won it the last three times. He’s blocked 21 shots, drawn a number of charges and generally stayed out of foul trouble.

“People don’t know if he’s going to block the shot or take a charge when they come down the lane,” assistant coach Ray Giacoletti said. “That’s a heck of a combination.”

The Bulldogs barely trail Purdue in field-goal percentage defense. The Boilermakers are at 36.1 percent after allowing Ohio State to shoot 60.4 percent Tuesday.

“It’s interesting because individually some of them have limitations but collectively they’ve really done a nice job,” Few said. “That (field-goal percentage) is far and away the biggest stat because points per game is predicated by how slow you play on offense. I couldn’t be happier with that.”

 

 


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Jim Allen (@srjimallen) 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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