Lots of boxing analogies tossed around after Gonzaga's see-it-to-believe-it 70-60 win over Saint Mary's last night. Indeed, the two best teams in the WCC threw haymakers all night with GU landing the final blows in a game-deciding 12-0 run that left most of an overflow crowd of 3,500 in stunned silence.
Also, coming soon to a wall near Gonzaga's locker room: David Stockton's picture in his No. 9 Kings uniform. He made his NBA debut last night and his picture will join ex-Zags who have played in the NBA. Read to the last line of this link.
Read on for my day-after post.
--The building was electric, even before tip-off. Senior Night ceremonies took a while with SMC starting five seniors, and the noise picked up some more. And then Saint Mary’s threw more logs on the fire with its quick start.
Add in a nicely orchestrated halftime ceremony retiring Patty Mills’ No. 13 and it looked like the Gaels were in control of the script Saturday night.
“First of all, St. Maries played great,” coach Mark Few said. “They came out and punched us right in the face and punched us in the gut and then stepped on us.”
Few has said this before, but it certainly applied after GU’s comeback win: “I tell them all the time the hardest thing to do in sports when you’re playing bad is flip it and play good. I thought Kyle was a perfect example of that and Byron was a good example of that.
“I can’t do that when I play golf, I know that. If it starts bad, I’m done.”
--Wiltjer was in the process of a tough night – two nights after dropping 45 on Pacific – but he finished strong. In some ways, it was as impressive as Thursday’s performance. Things weren’t going his way at either end for most of the game.
“Kyle was pressing early,” Few said. “I think that 45-pointer messed with his head a little bit. He was really aggressive but it was on the first side and we’re better when we get it moving a little bit.”
Wiltjer got it going, and then some, late. He scored eight of GU’s last 10 points. His 3-pointer launched the Zags’ comeback from a 55-46 deficit with 6 minutes remaining. He had four defensive rebounds in the final 1:28 and blocked a shot.
“That was winning time,” Wiltjer said. “We just huddled up as a group and said, ‘We played a bad game but let’s finish out these last two minutes special.' ”
--Gonzaga’s defensive game plan was to take away 3s, which added to Few’s anguish as the Gaels hit 7 of 11 in the first half. Gonzaga’s offensive game plan, as always, was to share the ball, get ball reversals and take advantage of favorable matchups. That didn’t happen in the first half, but the Zags turned it around in the second half.
“We deviated from the plan going in and why we’ve been successful,” Few said. “We have some defensive concepts we adhere to and we weren’t in the right spots. We weren’t making slides and we weren’t helping in the right areas. And we missed a bunch of bunnies, 6-8 shots within 4 feet of the basket that our guys have been unbelievable converting all year.”
GU adjusted defensively in the second half and SMC went 2 of 9 from 3. The Gaels were 2 of 15 from distance in a 68-47 loss in Spokane. The Zags made 12 of 24 field-goal attempts in the second half, 5 of 7 3s.
“We had to make them miss those 3s,” Bell said. “In the beginning we were putting a hand up but not getting out on them. We had to take that away.”
Few said this team is usually good about following the game plan, but occasionally needs a reminder.
“We do it in practice all the time,” he said. “We have to stop practice and say, ‘Guys, who are we? Why are we 28-1. Let’s get back to that.’ ”
STATS OF NOTE
--At one point, SMC was 6 of 7 from 3. The Gaels made just 3 of their last 13 attempts.
--Kevin Pangos passed Ronny Turiaf into sixth place on the scoring list. Pangos has 1,733 career points.
--Przemek Karnowski’s 99 career blocks is tied for fifth with Tim Ruff.
--GU has won eight straight over the Gaels.
--The Zags’ five turnovers equaled their season low (first meeting with Pacific).
Wesley: “We were closing out short to players that all they do is shoot 3s. Offensively, just not moving it, too many guys holding ball, including me. Once we cleaned those up we were lot more efficient in the second half.”
Few: “I thought they were the tougher team in first half and we were the tougher team in the second.”
Waldow: “I thought we weathered the storm (rebuilding lead to 51-41 with 11 minutes left). But it was more defensive lapses on our part.”
Bennett: “The biggest thing was defensively. We give up a 3 to Wiltjer on an inbounds play, a 3 to Bell. Those were big. Those were easy covers.”
Bennett: “It was tough, tough.”
Few: “You’ve got Waldow going 1-on-1 against two great post defenders, Sabonis and Shem, and then you try to double and you give up shots on the perimeter.”