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Day after Illinois

Danger: I’m watching the GU-Illinois replay and putting together the day-after Illinois post. I need to grab the paper to make it a trifecta.

First, the links: S-R gamer, photosChicago Tribune gamer, sidebar and photos, and Chicago Sun-Times gamer.

Read on.


—Gonzaga didn’t wait long to get Mike Tisdale in foul trouble. Coming off a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds in the Illini’s overtime win over Northwestern, Tisdale picked up two fouls in the first 85 seconds. With the 7-foot-1 junior on the bench, Gonzaga’s bigs were able to post up, often deep in the lane. Even with Tisdale in the game, GU got good post-up position.

Elias Harris, Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk combined for 46 points. GU scored 48 points in the paint, a sizable chunk from Sacre and Harris.

“(Sacre and Harris) have been doing that to everybody,” coach Mark Few said. “Those two worked everybody over in Maui early and they even put it to Michigan State early, I thought. That’s a big part of who we are and they’ve consistently done that. With Tisdale in foul trouble that made Illinois a lot smaller in there so that certainly helped us.”

Sacre and Harris each had 19 points. It was Sacre’s second straight game in double figures and that hasn’t happened since GU left Maui.

Tisdale scored four points in 11 minutes before fouling out.

—For the second straight game (probably third, but I’m not going back through the EWU play-by-play), Gonzaga scored on six straight possessions in the first half. At one point, GU had made 11 of 18 shots and led 32-11 against Illinois. Early on, Gonzaga’s running game was a bit more prominent than it was against Oklahoma.

In the midst of Gonzaga’s big first half, Sacre took the first 3-pointer of his career – and drained it. The play was the result of a ball going into the backcourt where Bol Kong retrieved it. He passed it to Sacre, who took one dribble and canned it to put Gonzaga on top by 16.

“Looked good,” Sacre cracked.

“I’ve been holding you back, I guess,” Few cracked.

“It’s from playing horse with (freshman teammate) David Stockton,” Sacre said.

—Gonzaga has been spotty in end-of-game and end-of-shot-clock situations the last few seasons, but it found success Saturday. Harris hit the game-winner in overtime with a hard drive to the middle where he floated in an 8-footer. (Some accounts called it a reverse layup, but he was in the middle of the lane when he released it). It was a virtual replay of the bucket he made with 45 seconds left in regulation to put GU in front 77-76.

Both were designed plays. In fact, GU wore out that isolation play on the left wing, 10-15 feet from the hoop with Harris and Matt Bouldin often on the receiving end. Harris got the ball there with about a minute left in overtime. Instead of driving, he missed from 13 feet. It appeared Illinois grabbed the rebound, but Demetri Goodson pounced on the floor to force a tie-up and GU retained possession. That turned out to be important when Harris followed with the game-winner.

GU played most of the overtime without Steven Gray, who fouled out on an iffy call with 3:47 remaining. Gray hit another big shot, a lean-in, 13-foot banker with 1:20 remaining in regulation to put GU in front 75-74.

Earlier this season, Sacre hit the tying shot in the lane in the final seconds to send the GU-Cincinnati game to overtime in Maui. Bouldin’s 13-foot bank shot with 39 seconds left against Colorado essentially sealed the win in the first round in Maui. It wasn’t necessarily a designed play, but Kong made a long 3-pointer to close out the first half against Oklahoma on Thursday.

—The team left the Spokane Arena court Thursday night at what, 9:45? They had a brief practice Friday morning, then flew out to Chicago. They played at 10 a.m. Pacific Saturday at the United Center. After taking a 21-point lead in the first half, GU fell behind for more than 11 minutes in the second half as its turnover total mounted and 21,000 pro-Illini fans were going crazy.

Given the previous 36 hours, it didn’t seem like an ideal time for the Zags to mount a comeback, but they did.

“In our minds we made it like a tournament,” Sacre said. “We played Eastern first, then we played Oklahoma and then we played these guys. I think we just set it up as a tournament. We played the Maui tournament like this with short preparation and we just knew what we need to do. That’s how we focused on this game, just one game at a time and made it like a tournament.”

Traveling by charter certainly has to help. The team was back in Spokane on Saturday night before 7.

—Sacre’s dad, Greg LaFleur, the athletic director at Southern University, was in attendance. Ex-Zag Jeremy Pargo also was a spectator, taking advantage of a break in his schedule with his Israeli pro team. No doubt Pargo stayed around to watch the Bulls and older brother, Jannero, beat Orlando Saturday night, but Jannero didn’t play.

—Stats of note: Season highs for assists (21) and turnovers (21); FG percentage of 55.9 was third best of the season; free-throw percentage dipped to 65 (13 of 20) after making 82.4 percent Thursday; Bouldin played 44 of 45 possible minutes and Sacre logged 40 minutes; Bouldin didn’t get to the free-throw line for the second straight game – the only two games he hasn’t attempted a free throw.

QUOTEBOOK

Few on if he wanted ball to go to Harris at the end: “Yes, very much so. When we can get Elias the ball anywhere around the basket or even the 8-10 feet (away), it’s amazing at how consistent he is with delivering. I think in that stretch of the game where we weren’t playing so well we kind of lost touch of what was working. Rob and ‘E’ were getting some touches early. When we got away from that, that seemed to be when we struggled a little bit.”

Few on Illinois: “I think they are really, really good. That’s why I think it is such a great win for us to come on the road. They are a NCAA Tournament team. They defend with such passion and their ability to make shots in a hurry. I thought they really showed that. They stuck with the game, too.

“We jumped them pretty early. When Rob starts making 3s we should have all gone to Vegas for about five minutes and done something. I thought they showed a lot of poise, especially with the big fella Tisdale being in foul trouble all game. I thought some of those other guys really stepped up and showed they could make 3s.”

Few on offensive execution: “That’s the biggest challenge with this group is playing to our strengths. Sometimes we lose our way where we kind of slide around and do different things. We’re at our best when we pitch the ball to Rob in the post, or to Elias (inside) or in the proximity of 10-12 feet of the basket, and Bouldin on ball screens or curls. Lost in all of this I thought Steven Gray played great. He got us off to a great start, kept us in it and made some plays when others guys were struggling and he had a big jump shot off a ball screen that got us right back into it.”

Sacre: “I think if you are the aggressor in any sport, not just basketball, if you are the aggressor in boxing or whatever, you are going to make plays and you are going to be effective. I think when guys are hitting shots it make it a lot easier (to be aggressive). Less double teams, you just have to be aggressive. All of the guys on our team are aggressive and they all look for their shots so it makes your job easier. If that happens, it just festers and everybody starts getting good shots.”

Bouldin in a post-game radio interview: “They call it a neutral site but it’s definitely not a neutral site. It’s probably 98 percent Illinois. It was unbelievable win. We played really hard. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but a hard-fought win.”

 


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