Good morning. I don’t know how many people are still up at this hour, but I am. That’s because I watched the replay and I wanted to put together the day-after post because I’m going to be out of Internet range for most of Sunday.
So here’s my post from Gonzaga’s 75-69 victory over USF, one of the more entertaining and interesting games of the season. I took advantage of the 5 p.m. start to chat with numerous Zags and USF coach Rex Walters. I also had brief interviews with GU’s three seniors in preparation for Tuesday’s Senior Night contest with Cal State-Bakersfield.
Read on for more.
—The Dons, much like Loyola Marymount, have several weapons, fairly balanced with penetrating guards and capable bigs, to present GU with matchup problems. And like LMU, the Dons show no fear when they face Gonzaga.
“We do some things that bother them, but they make plays,” Walters said.
This game was very much like the first meeting last month, won by USF 81-77. Dons guard Dontae Bryant had nine points and eight assists (he had five points and nine assists in the first game). Guard Kwame Vaughn had 12 points and six boards (10 and eight last time). Dior Lowhorn had 17 points (22 last time, six in OT). Moustapha Diarra had 15 points (11 last month). Angelo Caloiaro had two 3s and 10 points (three 3s and 11 points last month). Even GU’s individual stats were similar (Robert Sacre 13 in each game. Elias Harris scored 17 (21 last month).
“They’re a good basketball team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “so they’re hard for us to guard. They shoot it from four or five spots. They have size and their dribble penetration is tough to handle. I can’t speak how they play other games, but when they play us they play very well. They’re a handful.”
Said guard Matt Bouldin: “They’re just in attack mode. A lot of teams we play get on their heels at some point and aren’t as aggressive as they usually are. That team keeps it on the pedal the whole time. They have a lot of good shooters, good players. … They have some dangerous guys that can penetrate and it makes them tough when they kick out because they have good shooters.”
Said forward Bol Kong: “Their 4s play like a 3 and they have some big bodies, guys that are smaller but strong.”
—Lowhorn, the two-time WCC scoring champ who came in averaging 18.4 points, got off to a quick start, scoring three baskets in the first 4:30 minutes. All three came against Harris, one on a 3, one on a baseline jumper and one on a post-up. Shortly thereafter, Gonzaga switched defensive assignments, putting Bouldin on the 6-7 Lowhorn. Later in the half, Sacre (pictured above) guarded the USF forward.
Both kept Lowhorn in check. He missed his next four shots before getting free on the baseline when GU’s defense collapsed on a Bryant drive-and-dish. Lowhorn added another basket on an early post in transition.
Lowhorn was fairly quiet in the second half, again with Bouldin doing most of the defensive work and holding his own on the low block. Midway through the second half, Bouldin drew a foul when Lowhorn was overly aggressive on a post-up. Lowhorn made just 1 of 6 shots in the second half, but was 4 of 4 at the foul line. He finished with 17 points.
Bouldin finished with 11 points. He had a tough shooting weekend vs. USF and
—Gonzaga trailed 16-6 after Lowhorn’s early burst, but the Zags’ bench made a major contribution. Manny Arop grabbed a loose ball and made a putback. Kong hit a 3, then had a follow jam on Bouldin’s miss. Kelly Olynyk buried a 3 on an assist from Kong. At the other end, Lowhorn drove around Sacre, but Olynyk came over to help and Lowhorn put up an airball from 8 feet. Olynyk then fed Harris for a layup and Kong drove against a smaller defender (the 6-2 Bryant) for another bucket. That flurry helped put Gonzaga in front 27-18.
“Coming off the bench that’s pretty much our job to give the starters a lift and I think we did a good job of that,” said Kong, who had seven points to go with 12 vs.
Olynyk finished with five points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 18 minutes. Arop added seven points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. He also got a key block late in the game on Lowhorn’s 3-point attempt.
“They did (help us) and I told them that at halftime,” Few said. “And they were in there for long stretches in the second half. They helped us a bunch.”
The bench played additional minutes when Steven Gray and Sacre got into foul trouble in the second half.
“That was awesome,” Harris said of the bench. “That’s why basketball is a team sport. Sometimes when the first five is not on, everyone needs to be ready to play. They did a great job. They gave us that energy boost.”
USF received big production from its bench as Rashad Green had five assists, Diarra had 15 points and Perris Blackwell added five points and four rebounds. Diarra and Blackwell were in foul trouble in the second half.
—At several junctures in the second half, it looked like Gonzaga was poised to open up a big lead, but the Dons refused to go away. Gonzaga’s lead was often between 7-10 points in the second half, but USF, with Lowhorn doing limited damage, found other scoring from Diarra, Bryant, Vaughn and Caloiaro.
“I just felt like if we make them guard for more than 10 seconds, every team is always good (defending) for the first 10 seconds. The next 10 they’re not as good and the final 15 you have a chance to make plays,” Walters said of USF staying on Gonzaga’s heels in the second half. “We have to get multiple paint touches. When we broke down I thought we were settling for some quick ones. You can’t do that against Gonzaga, or any team.”
Bryant, Green and Vaughn were quick off the bounce, several times splitting defenders when GU’s bigs hedged on a high screen. Bryant and Green had 13 of USF’s 15 assists. When they penetrated, Sacre was often GU’s last line of defense.
“I feel like Roberto Luongo (goalie for the Canadian national team),” said Sacre, a native of
—It figures a game that was tight throughout would lead to a stat sheet like this: Points in the paint, both teams 34; points off turnovers USF 17, GU 16; second-chance points GU 11, USF 10; fast-break points, both teams 4; bench points USF 21, GU 19.
Biggest lead by USF, 10; Biggest lead by Gonzaga, 10. USF 25 FGs, 5 3s, 14 FTs; Gonzaga 26 FGs, 5 3s, 18 FTs.
—Gonzaga has had its struggles at the free-throw line. The Bulldogs are actually shooting worse in WCC games (64.7 percent) compared to their season-long percentage (66). But GU came through at the line at critical times Saturday, making 7 of 8 in the final 3:10. Sacre, who is shooting just 58.5 percent in conference, made 5 of 7 (3 of 4 late). Harris, who is shooting 62 percent in WCC games, made 6 of 7 in the second half.
“We work on them every practice, especially the last couple weeks,” Harris said. “We’re working hard on it because that can cost you a game if you don’t make those. Today, it worked out for us.”
USF was 11 of 19 from the line in the second half (57.9 percent). GU finished 18 of 22 (81.8 percent).
Stats of note: Gonzaga had seven players (Harris, Sacre, Bouldin, Gray, Arop, Olynyk and Kong) score between 4-7 points in the first half. … Olynyk’s 3 was just his third of the season. All have come in WCC play, where he is 3 of 6. … Demetri Goodson had a fairly quiet night (zero points, 19 minutes). He didn’t commit a turnover for the third time in four games. … Kong has 19 points in the last two games. He scored 18 in the previous 12 games. … Harris, who leads GU at 7.9 boards per game, didn’t have a rebound. That’s only happened twice (the other was five games ago against
Few on winning another WCC title, this one with a roster loaded with newcomers: “I just told them in there I’m so proud of them. This was a year that we were vulnerable to have so many new guys playing huge minutes, and when I say new guys I mean guys that were role players the year before that never had to play significant minutes. It really is an incredible accomplishment and the league was better this year. It was much better than I remember it being in the past.”
Sacre on winning the conference championship: “I can’t describe a lot of things that feel better (than cutting the nets down).”
Bouldin on his ankle, which he rolled when he appeared to land on Lowhorn’s foot with about five minutes left: “I think it’s fine. I’ve tweaked my ankle thousands of times. Hopefully with a little ice, treatment, it’ll be fine.”
Sacre on the Dons: “Personally, I think they should be in the (NCAA) tournament. Maybe it’s just us they play really well against, but in my eyes they’re a great team. They compete and battle really hard. I know we’ll probably see them in the conference tournament.”
Few on Sacre’s offense (13 points): “I thought he delivered very well in the post and stepped up and made his free throws. He had a heck of a game.”