Good afternoon. You know how you plan some trips out and they go off without a hitch. This wasn't one of those trips.
From lousy wireless (shouldn't that be a non-issue in this age of technology?) to blog posts that literally vanished into hyperspace, not to mention a reporter's notebook stuffed with play-by-play from GU-BYU and GU-USD as well as extensive breakdowns of Elias Harris' last nine games and David Stockton's last five that is somewhere in a seat pouch on an Alaska Airlines plane, it's been an adventure. No worries, we made it home, and the wireless works fine.
We'll post the day-after San Diego now and check back later for a look at GU's two seniors, Robert Sacre and Marquise Carter, as they prepare for their last game at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
First the links: My game story and the San Diego Union-Tribune's gamer, My game story has the seeding and pairings for the WCC Tournament (You'll note the game times for the second games of the night sessions are listed as 8:15. the league office lists them at 8 but with a 30-minute break after the conclusion of the 6 p.m. contest, the nightcaps generally start between 8:15-8:30).
Elsewhere, Saint Mary's did what Gonzaga couldn't do last Saturday. The Gaels beat San Francisco to wrap up an outright WCC title and their post-game celebration left as least one Dons player fuming. BYU, without Noah Hartsock, secured the third seed with a win over Portland. LMU downed Santa Clara, which finished 0-16 in WCC play.
—Gonzaga certainly didn’t have its ‘A’ game – more like its ‘C’ game for the first 36 minutes or so. Some of that, no doubt, was San Diego’s doing. The Toreros have shown steady growth the last half of the conference season, winning four of their last six games.
When GU bolted in front 8-0 at the outset – one of its three 8-0 runs – it looked like the game might be decided early. USD had other ideas and led on several occasions in the final 10 minutes.
The Bulldogs didn’t have the volume of turnovers (13) that have plagued them in recent games, but they did have numerous careless ones. One of the most notable came at the end of the first half. GU had scored eight unanswered points to go in front 31-23 and had the last possession. After a timeout to set up a play, Kevin Pangos was whistled for a 5-second call 23 feet from the hoop. USD cashed in with a layup just before the buzzer.
Elias Harris was just 2 of 9 from the field, missing his two second-half attempts. Gary Bell Jr. had nine points at half, but took just one shot in the final 20 minutes. Robert Sacre, Guy Landry Edi and Pangos carried the scoring burden in the second half with 28 of the team’s 34 points.
Edi’s 3-pointer, which gave GU a 54-52 lead, was perhaps the biggest basket of the game.
“It was one of those, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, good when it goes in,’ ” head coach Mark Few said. “He played well. His drives were controlled and he did a nice job defensively, didn’t force anything and he hit two big 3s.”
Said Edi: “We fought to the end, we believed in ourselves and we had to get this win. Everyone got together and we made some plays and some stops.”
The latter is what GU did in last Saturday’s loss to USF, but not the former. This time, Gonzaga had success at the offensive end with the game on the line.
“At the end we executed, took care of the ball, attacked the boards and got ourselves to the free-throw line,” Harris said. Prior to that? “San Diego hit a couple of shots and the crowd got into it and it was like every shot they took was falling,” he said. “That was one thing. The other side is we got a little bit rattled, but at the end of the day we figured it out again.”
Gonzaga didn’t seem to have much bounce in its step for portions of the game. Asked if he felt GU lacked energy, Few responded, “at times.”
—Sacre didn’t score in the first half and was one of three Zags saddled with two fouls. Still, Gonzaga went to him often in the last 15 minutes and he usually came through. He scored all 11 of his points in the final half. As he’s done often this season, most of his damage came at the free-throw line (7 of 9). He made 2 of 7 field goals, but one of those makes was a big one that gave Gonzaga the lead for good at 59-57. On the play, Sacre took a couple of dribbles to maneuver from just inside the 3-point arc into the middle of the lane. He deposited a 6-footer.
On at least two occasions coming out of second-half timeouts, Sacre got the ball inside, scoring his first points on a jump-hook at the 15:23 mark and feeding Sam Dower for a layup on another with 7:10 remaining.
“It might not have been (designed plays for Sacre) on those calls, but it ended up going there because he was being aggressive and demanded the ball,” Few said. “Down the stretch he did a much better job of forcefully positioning himself where could be effective.”
—Despite being held to 57 points, 11.5 under its WCC average, San Diego had some productive stretches, led by freshman guards Christopher Anderson (9 points, 5 assists) and Johnny Dee (13 points), wing Ken Rancifer (10 points, two 3s) and forward Dennis Kramer (10 points). Kramer had 10 points in the first 12-plus minutes and then rarely touched the ball the rest of the way. He missed his last three shots.
As mentioned in the game story, USD struggled at the free-throw line or it probably would have led at the break. (A quick fix to the gamer: USD was 1 of 6 at the line in the first half – they were 2 of 10 from 3). Outside of Dee’s 5 of 5 at the stripe, the rest of the Toreros made just 2 of 10.
“These guys are playing really good,” Few said. “To go on road and beat LMU … I’ve watched all their games and they played Saint Mary’s tough, everybody tough. I knew they were confident and feeling good. They have a lot of offensive weapons, quickness and spread the floor, and the biggest adjustment is their big guys are starting to make plays around the basket.”
USD’s defense has improved, particularly on the interior, where Gonzaga met little resistance in last month’s 17-point win in Spokane. The Toreros, who struggled to score last season, are finding ways to put up 60-70 points in conference play.
“I think (defense) is where we’ve gotten better, but it takes young guys a while to learn how to stick with a plan,” head coach Bill Grier said. “They’ve done a better job of being tougher and more resilient. Let’s face it: Rob Sacre is a load and it’s hard to defend him, but I thought our guys competed better than we did in Spokane. I think we’ve come a long way and the great thing is we have everybody back. I’d love to have (Darian) Norris for one more year, but we have everyone else back and if we have a good offseason maybe we can get off to a better start next season.”
STATS OF NOTE
—Harris has collected 99 rebounds in the last 12 games (11 per game). He’s scored 109 points in that span (12.1 per game).
—GU has had three straight games with significantly more turnovers than assists: 22-10 vs. USF, 20-8 vs. BYU and 13-8 vs. San Diego.
—Edi led GU in scoring with 13 last night. GU has had seven different players (Edi, Sacre, Harris, Dower, Pangos, Bell and Stockton) lead them in scoring at least twice this season.
—David Stockton has hit a rough patch over the last five games. He has just five points on 1-of-7 shooting, three assists and nine turnovers in 52 minutes. His playing time has been trimmed to just over 10 minutes per outing during that stretch. He entered USD averaging 17.4 minutes.
EDI, on GU’s switch to a zone in the closing minutes: “We were supposed to try it one time to see if it worked. It obviously worked pretty well so we stayed in it. We got some stops and we make some shots and free throws. We just finished it.”
SACRE, asked about the possibility of the streak ending (at the time Saint Mary’s had yet to take the floor against USF): “It really doesn’t matter that much. I don’t care if we’re first or second, we’re still going to go into the tournament the same way (as the second seed) and trying to do the same thing and that’s win the tournament. We’re going in hungry and that’s all that matters.”
EDI: “Every team gives us their best shot. They came out more hungry in the first half. We knew we had to wake up and play harder than them. Our whole focus in the second half was to play with great energy.”
FEW: “We talked about that (bringing energy) for all 40 minutes, but this was good for us. It was good to get a win in a close grinder and have to make offensive plays down the stretch and defensive plays.”
SACRE, on USD: “That team is getting better and better. I think we learned a lot. We learned not to quit when we hit adversity. We battled and came out with a win.”
FEW: “To kind of flip the switch, it’s one of the hardest things to do in sports, and we were able to do that.”
HARRIS: “If we make it to the tournament we’ll probably face games like that. It was like a practice game for a tight game.”