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Day after San Diego

Gonzaga crushed San Diego 68-31 last night to secure an 11th consecutive WCC title, this one shared with Saint Mary’s. The only other co-championship in GU’s run was with Pepperdine in 2002.

Saint Mary’s defeated Portland and will be the No. 1 seed at the conference tournament via tiebreaker (SMC swept No. 3 San Francisco, Gonzaga went 1-1 vs. the Dons).

Here's my game story and another from the San Diego newspaper.

The seeding for the conference tournament: No. 1 Saint Mary’s, No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 3 San Francisco, No. 4 Santa Clara, No. 5 Portland, No. 6 Pepperdine, No. 7 San Diego (won tiebreaker vs. LMU), No. 8 Loyola Marymount (picked No. 2 in preseason poll). Openers Friday in Las Vegas: Portland vs. LMU, Pepperdine vs. San Diego.

Read on for my day-after post.


 

 

—We’ll begin with junior center Robert Sacre, who seems to be emerging from his scoring slump of the last couple weeks. He wasn’t back to his November-January form, but he was more productive in GU’s 2-0 week. He had 13 points and seven boards against Saint Mary’s and 16 points and (I did a double-take on this one) zero rebounds against San Diego.

Sacre made 4 of 5 shots and 8 of 9 free throws against the Toreros. He blocked a couple of shots and had one nice high-low assist to Elias Harris. He also had five turnovers in 20 minutes, including a couple of offensive fouls.

Sacre was able to get early post position deep in the paint on several occasions, a key to his success in the first 2 1/2 months of the season.

Sacre has been battling a nagging wrist injury for a while and he’s aggravated it a few times, including once during the Saint Mary’s game. It sounds like it’s going to be with him the rest of the season, but he didn’t sport tape or a brace. Injuries are always a touchy subject and Sacre, like other Zags in the past dealing with various ailments (Heytvelt, Pargo, Gray, Bouldin, etc.) will barely acknowledge any issue with his wrist and quickly seeks to change the subject.

“I told Jen (Nyland, GU trainer) that we’re not going to check what’s wrong with it until the end of the year,” Sacre said with a broad smile. “It’s nothing big. I can handle it.”

He left the topic with one of his favorite sayings: “Small thing to a giant.”

—Mark Few was beyond pleased with Gonzaga’s title, his 11th in 12 years as head coach. He’s said repeatedly that the key, after a stumbling 3-3 start, was (cliché alert) proceeding one practice, one game at a time and focusing on improvement. GU won its last eight conference games to finish 11-3.

“He was pumped (in the locker room),” senior guard Steven Gray said. “He told us it was right up there with the best of them because it didn’t come easy. They never do, but we had to fight, scratch and claw to get this one. It’s really rewarding. He wanted us to go ahead and celebrate and understand we have another game (Cal-State Bakersfield) on Monday.

“So we’ll enjoy the plane ride back and right back to it.”

The players were singing and dancing in the locker room, long after the final buzzer sounded.

“This one was way better than the last two,” junior guard Demetri Goodson said. “This one, with the route we had to take to get it, it’s just a great feeling.”

—As mentioned here last week, Gonzaga’s rotation has been trimmed essentially to nine. Marquise Carter has locked down the starting wing position, joining Gray, Sacre, Harris and Goodson in the starting five. Sam Dower is the first big off the bench – he was at the scorer’s table in the first 2:30 minutes yesterday. Kelly Olynyk subs in for Harris, but he hasn’t played as much the last two games because he’s slowed by a hip injury that occurred during the USF game.

David Stockton is basically splitting time with Goodson at the point and Mike Hart is the primary backup for Gray. Last night, Mathis Mönninghoff, Mathis Keita and Manny Arop played in the last 5-6 minutes after seeing minimal time since the calendar hit February. Keita had three points and Arop collected three rebounds.

“I think we’re comfortable,” Few said. “Marquise has been playing so good. I think we’ve had a lot of success with Marquise and Stocks in there at the guard spots, and for 4-5 minute spells there’s not a better defender, hustle-play guy and move-the-ball guy than Mike Hart. You’ve seen that I trust him at the ultimate moments most of the season.”

San Diego suffered through its worst offensive night as a Division I program, which dates back to 1979-80. The Toreros mustered just 31 points, shot just 25.5 percent from the field and 43 percent from the free-throw line. Senior guard Matt Dorr, the Mt. Spokane/CCS product who was one of three players honored on Senior Night prior to the game, missed all nine of his shots, four from long distance. Senior teammate Devin Ginty also had a tough night, going 1 of 6, finishing with three points and six turnovers before fouling out.

“It’s almost like quicksand,” Ginty said. “The harder you try, the deeper and deeper you get.”

It was a difficult night for USD coach Billy Grier, the former long-time Gonzaga assistant. His team had been playing better of late and posted the upset of the WCC season with a home win over Saint Mary’s 11 days ago.

“I just can’t fathom scoring 31 points in the modern era,” Grier said, “no matter who you are playing.”

Few spoke highly of his close friend and former aide.

“He’s like a brother to me,” Few said. “They’re doing all the right things, they run their stuff perfectly, it’s extremely difficult to guard. We spend time on it this week, even before we played Saint Mary’s and we spent a lot of time on it Friday. I commented to the staff on how hard they are still playing after watching the Portland tape.

“They’re just really, really young. We’re going to be really young next year. He’s got some good young guys and he’s a great coach.”

—One of the more promising signs over the last 2-3 weeks has been Harris’s elevated play. He had a memorable drive and dunk against the Gaels and he followed it up with some quality work inside Saturday. He’s looked bouncier and more aggressive in the second half of the WCC season.

“I’ve been playing my way,” he said. “I know what to do now and I’m going to keep it up.”

—Gonzaga took the USD portion of the crowd out of it early with its 17-2 lead. The band and some in the student section tried to stay interested, but lost their energy as San Diego struggled to score.

“Eleven points in the first 15 minutes,” grumbled one band member. “We can’t even make easy shots.”

The most fired up the students got was when a fan, seemingly well stocked with liquid courage, stood up and waved a San Diego State sweatshirt at the student section. The Aztecs didn’t have the best day on Saturday either, falling at home to BYU, but that didn’t stop him from 10 minutes of taunting.

The students responded by chanting: “B-Y-U, B-Y-U, B-Y-U.”

STATS OF NOTE

—When Sacre missed a free throw in the closing minute of the first half, it was the Bulldogs’ first errant foul shot after making their first 12.

Stockton had four steals, three rebounds, two assists and hit all six of his free throws in 21 minutes.

—Carter hit Gonzaga’s lone 3-pointer. He was 1 of 2 beyond the arc. The team finished 1 of 7.

—Dower had a couple of rough patches, committing three turnovers, but still finished with four points and three boards in 15 minutes. He had two steals and a blocked shot.

—Gonzaga was 21 of 43 from the field. GU’s season-low for shot attempts is 42 (Xavier and first Santa Clara game). In all three games, Gonzaga attempted at least 30 free throws.

—Gonzaga’s 14 steals tied a season high (EWU and San Diego last month).

—GU beat San Diego by a combined 70 points in two games.

—Odd stat: Fast-break points: GU 0, San Diego 0.

—Throw out Ken Rancifer’s 5-of-9 shooting and the rest of the Toreros were 7 of 38. Rancifer scored 13 points and Chris Manresa had seven. Nobody else had more the three points. USD finished with only six assists.

QUOTES

Sacre: “We have to keep our minds right and be ready for the tournament. We have another game (Monday), but whatever team comes up (Sunday in the semifinals) we’ll be excited. It’ll be a big deal for them and for us. We just need to be the aggressors.”

Goodson on the defense: “We put a lot of heart and effort into winning the Saint Mary’s game. To come in here and not give the same effort would have killed that effort (Thursday). We just told each other to come out and play hard.”

Sacre on overcoming a three-game deficit to become WCC co-champions: “That goes to show everyone who doubted us they can keep on doubting us, but we’re going to keep rolling and getting it done.”

Gray on GU’s title: “We didn’t give up, the coaches didn’t give up on us. We took it day by day and we knew that was only way we were going to get back into the picture. We put ourselves in this position last week by taking care of business.”

 

 

 


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