Like the Zags, I managed to get through last night’s so-late-I-missed-Saturday-Night-Live game that finished after 10:30.
Gonzaga was tested twice on this road trip, trailing Santa Clara by six early in the second half and USF by a bucket on several occasions in the second half. It was tied at 55 Saturday when Kevin Pangos buried a key 3-pointer – seems like I’ve written that same sentence a few times the last four years – and Kyle Wiltjer followed with two more 3s.
That run gave GU a 10-point lead, but USF quickly cut it to 68-65 with 4:06 left. It was 73-68 with 1:39 left when Matt Glover was whistled for a deadball technical foul. I didn’t see what happened (from my vantage point it was a struggle just to hear the P.A. announcer) but several folks texted/tweeted that Glover tossed Pangos to the ground.
Read on for my day-after post.
-- Gonzaga brings out the best in its WCC opponents, particularly on the road. You probably get tired of reading about it or hearing about it. Heck, I get tired of writing it. But you probably can’t find two better examples reinforcing the notion than GU’s Bay Area road trip.
Santa Clara, hanging out in the middle-to-lower-half of the WCC, had the crowd of 4,700-plus roaring and the Zags on their heels early in the second half before GU pulled away. Two nights later, the Broncos lost by 20 in front of 2,110 to then-seventh-place Portland.
San Francisco shoots 22.7 percent in the second half and gets thumped by Portland on its home floor on Thursday. Two nights later, the Dons, stuck in ninth place and saddled with a four-game losing streak, shoot 50 percent against Gonzaga’s WCC-leading FG% defense and force the Zags to execute in crunch time to get the win.
Saturday’s crowd: 4,000, sell-out. Thursday’s crowd: 1,386.
Most of Gonzaga’s conference road games have followed a familiar theme: Jump out to an early lead, the home team starts hitting shots, crowd goes bonkers, GU regains control and digs out semi-comfortable victory.
“This is a crackerbox of a place and the home team on those rims seems to always shoot it pretty darn good,” coach Mark Few said. “It’s life on the road when you’re a highly ranked team. They come after you, and when you don’t handle your business as well as you have in the past, especially our defensive assignments, you let these teams get the lead and then you have a tiger by the tail.”
--Kyle Wiltjer was forced to exit for a few minutes in the second half after being hit in, well, a sensitive area. It didn’t seem to affect his scoring ability as Wiltjer nailed two 3s shortly after re-entering the game and went on to a 29-point night, his second highest of the season.
“It’s a little sore right now,” Wiltjer said in Gonzaga’s locker room. “I just had to walk it off for a couple minutes and I was good to go.”
--Gonzaga’s man-to-man defense has been solid most of the season and terrific since the second half of the Pepperdine game Jan. 15. But the Dons’ success inside and outside prompted the Zags to play zone for the first time in a month, by Few’s recollection. The tactic worked, for the most part, and helped GU close out the Dons.
“We did a good job on the boards,” Przemek Karnowski said. “We went to a zone and I thought that was a game-changer. They had to shoot contested shots.”
Before Santa Clara, which made 42% of its shots, Gonzaga’s previous five foes were shooting 35% and averaging 56 points.
--Long night for Gary Bell Jr., and, to a lesser degree, Karnowski. Bell missed all seven of his shots, including four 3s. Hel was 2 of 4 at the FT line and finished with two points. Karnowski made the first basket of the game, then picked up two fouls. He added a couple of second-half FGs and finished with six points and five boards.
“I’m happy my teammates had my back,” Karnowski said. “Two quick calls and I was out of the game … but we got another win and we’re going to prepare for another game.”
STATS OF NOTE
--Pangos passed Matt Bouldin into seventh place on Gonzaga’s all-time scoring list. Pangos has 1,689 points. No. 6 Ronny Turiaf scored 1,723.
--Domantas Sabonis grabbed nine boards in just 21 minutes, his 10th straight game with at least eight rebounds.
--Angel Nunez, in his first appearance in three games, contributed three points in the closing minutes of the first half.
--Gonzaga won the boards 37-22. The Zags have outrebounded opponents in 23 of 25 games.
--USF had 14 assists to Gonzaga’s 12. It was just the third time this season GU has had fewer assists than its opponent.
Few: “Domas is doing an unbelievable job rebounding night in and night out.”
Pangos on GU finishing in a close game: “The more experience you get at anything the better you’ll be when you face in another time. We handled it pretty well.”