Caught a double-feature this morning. I watched the second half of the GU-Saint Mary's game (I took in the first half at 1:30 a.m. before the eyes gave out) and then caught the last 7 minutes of GU-SMC from 2009 on ESPNU(Zags 72-70 in Moraga -- pretty good five on the floor with Pargo, Bouldin, Downs, Daye and Heytvelt; an injured Patty Mills on SMC's bench).
I told several people last night that the first 30 minutes of Thursday's game was as high-level as any I've seen at the Kennel in five years. Raucous atmosphere, two top 20 teams playing well, fiercely contested, great individual efforts. And then GU played even better, continuing to get quality shots and muzzling SMC's offense en route to a 73-59 victory.
There were two prominent story angles: I went with GU's freshmen duo -- Kevin Pangos scored 27, Gary Bell Jr. 12 -- in the game story, John Blanchette addressed GU's toughness in his column. Photos by Dan Pelle here. More coverage by CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman, San Jose Mercury News and A.P. Goodman had a follow-up this morning detailing why he believes Mark Few will never leave Spokane.
Elsewhere, San Diego won again (Bill Grier may be doing the best coaching job of his career), LMU shot down Portland and USF's Cody Doolin had a heated exchange with coach Rex Walters and carried the Dons past Santa Clara.
Read on for my day-after post.
--Pangos and Bell Jr. took over that game for key stretches in each half. They combined for 12 straight points in the first half to erase a Saint Mary’s lead. When GU finally got separation in the second half, it was Pangos and Bell fueling a 14-4 run.
For all the key buckets and passes, Pangos said defense was the reason Gonzaga pulled away.
“It’s always defense,” he said. “You start runs by getting stops and capitalizing at the other end. We stretched the lead and they couldn’t get back.”
--GU’s defense was focused on Matthew Dellavedova obviously, but the Zags were also able to contain Rob Jones and Stephen Holt, who has been outstanding in WCC play, and keep Brad Waldow in check after his hot start. Bell, who guarded Dellavedova most of the second half, said GU gave the junior guard a variety of looks – switching (mostly in the first half), trapping, hard show and a softer show (Bell called it ‘centerfield’ where the big shows on the ball screen but gives up ground).
Dellavedova hit a couple of tough shots, one over Guy Landry Edi and Robert Sacre in the first 40 seconds, but was reduced to taking long 3s in the second half. He tried to post up against Bell a couple times, but with little success. Dellavedova did get the FT line (8 of 8).
Holt, defended by Bell most of the first half, went scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting. Waldow had eight points in the first 10 minutes, two the rest of the way. GU limited dump-down passes to Waldow, who scored on three of those early when his defender left to help on penetration. Jones has had little success against Elias Harris in two meetings. Jones is 5 of 17 on FGs, 0 of 5 on 3s in the two games.
“We battled for 30 minutes but you have to play 40 minutes up here,” said Gaels coach Randy Bennett, mentioning that SMC has one just once at the Kennel in his 11 seasons. “We played probably a C+ or B- type game and that is just not going to get it done. They played well and we needed to have our ‘A’ game to get it done up here.”
--With the way Pangos played in the final 27 minutes, it was easy to forget he left the game for a stretch with two early fouls. He had 25 of his 27 points in the final 27 minutes. He finished with two fouls.
“The Machine was back,” said Sacre, recalling the nickname he gave Pangos earlier this season. “The Machine was playing. That helps us open up the floor.”
Pangos made 8 of 16 shots, 5 of 6 3s.
“I wouldn’t say I was in a slump, but I wasn’t shooting the ball as well as I wanted to,” he said. “I wanted to come out aggressive again and do whatever I could to help the team. Today it was knocking down shots and the guys found me.”
--GU’s bigs turned around the results from the 83-62 loss in Moraga. Sacre, Harris and Dower combined for 30 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. All three shot 50 percent or above. SMC’s bigs had 25 points and 16 rebounds, three assists and one block. GU had a 38-24 edge in point paints and a 13-10 advantage in second-chance points.
“Rob was a force down there,” Few said. “Even when we weren’t getting him the ball, he was posting so hard it was leading to a lot of driving lanes for other guys. ‘E’ was engaged the whole time.”
--I can’t recall a better game atmosphere (pre and during) than last night in five years covering GU. Creative signs from the Kennel Club (liked the Gary Bell/Taco Bell one), creative outfits (dude in kangaroo outfit with picture of Dellavedova in the pouch) and volume (loudest of the night was when Bell hit the 3 off Pangos’ feed late in the second half).
“They were great tonight,” Few said. “The energy in here is always good. It was a good night in here.”
--Sacre has adopted a familiar response when fielding questions about Gonzaga’s 11-year WCC title run being in jeopardy and the Zags being in pursuit mode in the WCC standings. The Gaels still have a one-game edge in the loss column entering their final four games. GU is 9-2, just in front of LMU (9-3) and BYU (8-3).
“We heard this last year, it’s nothing new to us,” he said. “We just have to fight through and play our game.”
Pangos said he heard plenty about the streak this week, and the possibility of it essentially ending on Thursday. “But you never know what can happen,” he said. “Anything can happen.”
STATS OF NOTE
--GU was 10 of 19 at the FT line. Pangos was 6 of 6.
--Ryan Spangler entered for a brief run about 6 minutes into the first half. He’d missed three weeks with a broken left pinkie finger. He wore a padded splint to protect his hand.
--Saint Mary’s three losses have been by nearly identical scores (GU 73-59, Denver 70-58, Baylor 72-59). Common denominators: 3-point shooting: SMC vs. GU 5-21, SMC vs. Denver 5-19; SMC vs. Baylor 5-20. Rebounding: GU plus 14, Baylor plus 13.
--Gonzaga had 11 turnovers, five by Stockton and four by Harris (three in a rapid-fire stretch in the second half). Stockton had five of GU’s 14 assists. Other than Stockton, every GU turnover was committed by a forward or center. In other words, Bell and Pangos played 68 turnover-free minutes.
--Harris was dialed in from the outset, scoring a couple of early baskets and playing well defensively. He finished with a double-double (10 and 10). He had two baskets erased, one for an over-the-back foul and another for a charging foul.
--Pangos and Bell were 7 of 9 on 3s; the rest of the team 0 of 6.
--Jones is 3 of 30 on 3s over the last eight games.
SACRE, on GU’s effort: “It was awesome, amazing … but we still have things we can get better at.”
FEW, on Bell: “He played a whale of a game offensively and defensively.”
FEW, on Pangos: “He was great. Obviously when he makes shots like that it makes everything easier. He was really good finding guys and being comfortable at the end of the (shot) clock and he did a nice job defensively.”
BELL, on his role in the offense: “I just wait for my time to come. If I come off a ball screen and it’s open I have the freedom to shoot it or get it to the roll man.”
BELL, on evening the season series at 1-1: “This feels great because I feel like first time we played them we didn’t play our best.”
FEW, on whether toughness has been an issue this season: “Not many (times), we’re 19-4. When we’ve struggled maybe we haven’t played as tough as we would have liked, especially on the interior. They’re as tough as anyone in the country when set their minds.”