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Day after Illinois

Gonzaga brings out the best in Illinois. A couple of Illinois-based reporters told me Illinois played its best game of the season by far in defeating Gonzaga 82-75 Saturday. They said the same thing about Illinois' win last year in the Battle in Seattle.

The teams conclude a four-game set with a meeting next year at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Illinois has won 2 of 3.

Read on for my day-after Illinois post.

--I mentioned both of these items regarding GU assistant coach Ray Giacoletti and ex-Zag Jeremy Pargo on Twitter prior to yesterday’s game.

Giacoletti was busy greeting friends and family prior to the game. He’s a native of Peoria, Ill., which is about 90 miles from Champaign, and his wife, Kim, has family in Bloomington, about 45 miles away. Giacoletti anticipated having 15-20 friends and relatives at the game. He coached at Illinois State.

Pargo drove down from his hometown of Chicago to watch the Bulldogs. He opted out of his contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, despite being scheduled to make seven figures. Why?

“Because the (NBA) free agency market is pretty open right now,” he said. “I’m pretty confident, hopefully things will work out.”

He’s hoping to land on an NBA roster soon, now that the lockout is over and teams are gearing up for the season.

“I’m spending some time in Miami working out there and I work out in Chicago, just getting prepared. It’s a big week coming up,” he said. “It was a pretty big contract (with Maccabi), but when your heart is in a certain area you have to take advantage of it. That’s what I plan to do.”

Kevin Pangos, Marquise Carter and Sam Dower all had family members on hand.

--From the e-mails I’ve seen and Tweets I’ve read, there seemed to be a consensus out there that GU’s newcomers and young backcourt struggled mightily in their first journey into a big-time road environment. That’s not quite what I witnessed. Freshmen Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., and sophomore David Stockton didn’t play lights out, but they didn’t flop on the big stage either.

Pangos, whose 15-point average is a somewhat skewed by his 33-point outburst against WSU, had 11 points, three assists, one steal and one turnover in 36 minutes, often operating against a quality defender in Richardson. He didn’t have a ton of open looks. He didn’t take his first shot until roughly six minutes remained in the first half and he didn’t score until 55 seconds remained. He was more aggressive in the second half, scoring seven points. He missed an open 3 off a well-designed inbound play at the 7:30 mark that would have cut Illinois’ lead to 1.

“I thought Pangos was fine,” head coach Mark Few said, “for the first time out in a really hostile environment against good on-ball defenders. Those guys were quicker than him, but he took care of the ball.”

Pressed by another question about Richardson’s defense on Pangos, Few bristled.

“You guys must be seeing (something) I didn’t see. He had 11 points, three assists. He’s a freshman playing in his first road game,” Few said. “He’s not a 25-point a game guy. He missed a couple of 3s he usually makes. Richardson is a heck of a defender.”

Bell had just two points in the first half, but was strong in the second, scoring seven points, grabbing all three of his rebounds and handing out his lone assist. He also had two turnovers. He dug out a loose ball and scored to close Illinois’ lead to 54-50. He sliced down the lane to score to keep Gonzaga within 71-64 late. His nine points surpassed his 8.4 average.

“I liked (the atmosphere) a lot, it was live,” Bell Jr. said. “I like playing on the road, ever since I was in high school. The fans are cheering against you. I like that.”

Stockton had mixed results: nine points, three steals, two assists and four turnovers. Twice after making steals he gave the ball right back to Illinois on the break.

Gonzaga’s guard line probably struggled more on the defensive end than the offensive end. Illini guards Richardson, Paul and Sam Maniscalco combined for 42 points, 12 boards, 10 assists, five steals and six turnovers. GU did have some success with full-court pressure.

Few termed many of Gonzaga’s 16 turnovers decision-based and not forced by pressure.

When asked how the backcourt handled the environment at Assembly Hall, Stockton summed it up pretty well: “Decently. We could have made a lot better decisions and stayed more focused. Once again, this is a special place. Not too many places can get it hopping like this so kudos to them.

“(Richardson and Paul) got it going, especially Richardson from 3. They’re good, they’re big and they like to defend.”

--On to the injuries. Bell Jr. went down with a knee injury with roughly 2 minutes left and limped off the court. He didn’t return. Later, he said he didn’t think the injury was serious. Sacre probably sounded a bit less convincing regarding his neck issue: “I dove for the ball and I don’t know what happened. My neck got pulled back, but it’s all right.”

I’ve mentioned this several times the last few years: Gonzaga players barely acknowledge any type of injuries, let alone the severity, often until the following season. See Steven Gray (multiple ailments), Josh Heytvelt (foot), Elias Harris (shoulder, Achilles), Marquise Carter (wrist), Robert Sacre (wrist), Matt Bouldin (calf.), etc. I mention this not to cause panic, but more as a word of caution. The bottom line is from what I heard post-game from the players and a couple of others close to the program I don’t believe either injury is serious, but we’ll see how Bell Jr. and Sacre check out.

--Sacre was dominant for the first 17 minutes, then missed a couple of close-range shots late in the half. He never returned to form, going nearly 20 minutes between points. He finished with 16 points, 2 in the second half. He only played 11 second-half minutes, in part because he picked up five fouls in the final half.

Sacre had most of Illinois’ front line in foul trouble in the first half, including Leonard. Illinois fans and coach Bruce Weber weren’t thrilled by many of the calls made by the all WCC crew. GU attempted 14 free throws in the first half to Illinois’ 7. For the game, GU had 27 free throws, Illinois 17. The first foul call on Sacre early in the second half drew a rousing ovation from the crowd.

Sacre said there was no difference in how the game was called in each half, noting that the aggressor typically gets the benefit of the whistle.

Leonard finished with 21 points and six boards.

“He’s super athletic, runs the floor like a deer,” Sacre said. “I should have respected him a little more. He has a great future.”

STATS OF NOTE

--Both teams shot above 50 percent in each half. GU finished at 51 percent, Illinois 53.3.

--GU’s bench, with nine points each from Stockton and Bell Jr., outscored Illinois’ 23-11.

--Illinois won the rebounding, 30-27, but Gonzaga won the second-chance points (18-10) with each team grabbing nine offensive boards.

--The Zags had just 10 assists (team-high three from Pangos) and 16 turnovers. Illinois was almost the opposite (16 and 12).

--Gonzaga’s accuracy at the free-throw line continues to drop after a hot start in the first two games. Gonzaga made 18 of 27 (66.7 percent), below its season average of 70.4 entering the game.

QUOTEBOOK

Leonard on Sacre’s fifth foul: “He had me sealed and I fought over it. He kind of threw his body into me, gave me a forearm a little bit.”

Stockton on playing without Sacre for portions of second half: “Whenever your leader goes down like that you have to figure out a way to turn it around. I don’t think we fully recovered, but that’s what we have to learn to do. We’re not going to have Rob forever. We have to learn to go without the big, bald guy.”

Sacre on the frustration of making numerous runs, but never taking the lead in the final 36 minutes: “That’s the nature of the game. You want to win, they don’t want you to win so they’re going to try to do anything possible to get in your way. It was kind of frustrating, but it’s just a learning point.”

Sacre on the crowd (with a straight face … sort of): “It was a little louder than Vancouver.”

Few: “I thought we handled their pressure very well, especially in the first half, with six turnovers. In the second half, I don’t know if those were pressure forced, probably more decision based.”

Weber on Richardson’s ‘D’ on Pangos: “He just didn’t let him get any looks, never let him get into a rhythm. He needs time and space, and D.J. is really good at staying tight with somebody. D.J. is probably a little better athlete and older.”

 

 




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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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