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Day after Oklahoma

I stayed awake long enough to welcome in the new year, thanks to a viewing of the GU-OU replay and my kids’ Rock Band party in the basement. The Zags were in tune with perhaps their most complete performance since waxing Wisconsin in the Maui semifinals.

First, the links: S-R gamer, sidebar on Oklahoma’s Tiny Gallon bringing down the backboard, S-R photos, A.P. gamer and a recap in the Daily Oklahoman. And here’s Mike Prager’s article on a homeless man being treated to a front-row seat.  

Read on for a day-after post and check back later today for a preview of Saturday’s game against Illinois.


I was able to chat with Elias Harris, Steven Gray and Mark Few after the game. It was an unusual situation for me – posting the game story because of early deadlines and then doing interviews – but it makes for a lengthy day-after post. John Blanchette grabbed a few quotes from ex-Zag Casey Calvary, who brought down the backboard in a 2001 game at the Arena.

—We’ll begin with the first half, where GU played perhaps its best half of offense this season against a quality opponent. True the shots were falling, but that tends to happen when there is patience, flow and superior passing. Shooters were generally open and there was a near perfect blend of inside (16 points), conversions off turnovers (13) and deadeye perimeter shooting (nine 9s) in the first 20 minutes.

Even free throws, one of the team’s shortcomings thus far, were dropping (14 of 17). And consider GU’s 52-point first half came with two starters (Rob Sacre and Demetri Goodson) going scoreless.

“We just started moving the ball,” said Gray, who made three 3s and scored a team-high 18 points. “The coaches have been on us for who knows how long to really get the ball swinging and get it inside, and it opens up a lot of easy, simple plays. That had a lot to do with it.

“It creates so many open looks, in rhythm, for shots we spend hours working on.”

Harris made all five of his first-half attempts, including three 3s. He finished with 15 points.

“The last two games (94-52 over EWU) we’ve been pretty good offensively,” he said. “It’s not perfect yet, but pretty good. We need to swing the ball. That’s the key for us to be successful.”

It’s been an interesting four-game stretch. Gonzaga had a season-high 103 points vs. Davidson, a two-decades-low 41 vs. Duke, a tidy 94 against EWU and 83 on Oklahoma. The Bulldogs appeared bound for the 90s or 100s, but scored only four points in the final 7:30 against the Sooners, not that it really mattered.

“When we move the ball and share it, especially early in the clock … and I think guys are getting a better feel for that,” said Few, who noted that his team missed 13 layins, 14 free throws and had 18 turnovers against Duke. “When we hold it and kind of wait for a screen to come or throw it into the post and stand, I think we’re pretty easy to guard. And it helps when you make shots. We stepped up and made shots.”

Gonzaga had just four turnovers in the first half, three in the first two minutes, and three more late in the second half long after the outcome had been decided. The Bulldogs finished with only 10 turnovers, which limited Oklahoma to seven points off turnovers. Gonzaga scored 20 off OU miscues.

—Bol Kong was instant offense again, and the rest of his game is improving as well. He had 11 first-half points in just nine minutes. He capped the half with a long 3-pointer just before the buzzer. He finished with a season-high 14 points in a season-high 22 minutes.

“It’s nice to be able to bring somebody like that off the bench,” Few said. “That’s what I told him in the Duke game – he came in and was just trying to blend in – if you see us struggling on offense you need to come in and change it and assert yourself. That’s your role. Some guys come in and play defense and rebound.”

Kong had seven rebounds vs. EWU, nearly doubling his season high, and he’s been better at the defensive end.

“The pace of his game has sped up enough,” Few said. “He’s getting better defensively, so that’s allowing us to play him longer. He has a casual air about him, but he’s getting better. He’s getting in a stance. He’s a smart player and he understands all our schemes and switches, but sometimes he’s not as nasty as you’d like him to be.”

Kong remained in the first five on the floor after the 50-minute delay while the backboard was repaired.

—Harris’ mom, Svenja, flew to Spokane from Germany on Christmas Day. She was in the audience for her son’s 15-point, 9-rebound, 1-monster dunk performance. That came when he drove around Tony Crocker and flushed the ball with two hands over 6-9 Ryan Wright.

“I’ve got a good feeling because we were executing very well, we played good defense and the whole team chemistry on the court was great,” Harris said.

Harris’ mom played basketball in Germany’s second division.

Calvary shattered a backboard in a 2001 game at the Arena. During Thursday’s delay, caused when the 296-pound Gallon broke the glass backboard early in the second half, Calvary said it was interesting to watch the clean-up process and installation of a new backboard. The process took about 40 minutes and teams were then allowed an 8-minute warm-up.

“I didn’t get to see any of this (in 2001),” he said. “We were back in the locker room preparing. It seemed like a second halftime.”

Calvary’s dunk attempt in 2001 caused a 42-minute delay. Teammate Zach Gourde had to take a shower in the locker room to rid himself of shards of glass. “Zach was the only one bleeding,” Calvary said.

“Anyone who dunks a basketball is probably going to break a rim at some point,” Calvary said. “When it happens, you’re lucky if you don’t hurt yourself.”

—As luck would have it, I walked out of the Arena just as Gallon and the Sooners were leaving to catch their charter flight home. I asked Gallon if that was his first broken backboard and he politely said, “Yes, sir.” I suggested that it probably won’t be his last and he broke into a big smile.

Watching the replay later, Gallon was shaking glass fragments out of his hair and uniform on the sideline immediately after the play.

Gray, who was helping down low, Matt Bouldin and center Robert Sacre showed quick reactions to flee the scene when it started raining glass.

“I got out of the way,” Gray said. “I heard it, looked up and saw glass and said, ‘I’m gone.’ ”

—Gonzaga essentially went through its pre-game and/or halftime rituals during the delay. The stoppage came with GU playing well and leading 59-40. Few was worried that the break might curb the team’s momentum, but Kong hit a shot-clock-beating 3-pointer when play resumed.

“That’s not in your coaching handbook and it’s not something you deal with as a player,” Few said. “We just tried to move them around and told them to keep their edge.”

—Sooners coach Jeff Capel kept Gallon and point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin out of the starting lineup because they were late returning for practice after the holiday break. Mason-Griffin ended up playing 32 minutes and finished with nine points and 10 assists. Gallon was limited to eight points in 13 minutes, in part because he was in foul trouble.

Standout guard Willie Warren scored a team-high 19 points, draining several long 3-pointers, but he had five turnovers.

—Sacre was quiet in the first half with zero points and one rebound, but he chased down four offensive rebounds in the first 2:08 of the second half. He finished with 11 points and seven boards.

“It just makes a huge difference for us when he’s flying around like that, both he and Elias,” Few said.

Oklahoma doesn’t lack for size or strength. In addition to Gallon, the Sooners have Wright (6-9, 241), Andrew Fitzgerald (6-8, 258) and Orlando Allen (6-10, 288). The 5-11 Mason-Griffin is sturdy at 206 pounds and Steven Pledger checks in at 6-4, 217.

According to Gallon’s bio in the Sooners’ media guide, he weighed 12 pounds, 11 ounces at birth and weighed 360 as a high school freshman. An AAU coach gave him the nickname ‘Tiny.’

“Rob (Sacre) said he got hit a few times and he came to the bench and said, ‘They’re big,’ ” Gray said. “I didn’t venture inside all that much. I’m not going to lie.”

QUOTEBOOK

Gray on dealing with the 50-minute delay: “The coaches told us to treat it like another halftime, go through your pre-game rituals again. A lot of us put music on. We got dialed back in when it got closer to resuming.”

Harris on the challenge of playing Illinois roughly 36 hours after Thursday’s game ended: “Everybody needs to dial in, stay focused and know what we have to do. It shouldn’t be a big problem.”

Few on Oklahoma’s offensive capabilities: “Against a team like that that can score 15-18 points in 3 minutes, no lead is safe. That team is full of offensive firepower, soft-touch bigs, guards that can really mess with ball screens, and five guys that can really shoot the ball from deep.”

Capel, shouting from the sideline late in the second half to his players in zone defense: “Shooters everywhere, shooters everywhere.”


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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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