Greetings from snowy Sea-Tac Airport. It doesn't snow here often, but you can pretty much count on me being at Sea-Tac when it does.
I put together this day-after LMU post on the first leg of the trip. Here's a link to my game story from last night's game — a GU win 62-58. I know the perception is that Gonzaga rolls to easy wins in Gersten Pavilion, but that hasn't been the case at all the last three years. Those results: LMU 74-66, GU 67-57 and GU 62-58. All were dogfights.
Read on for my day-after post.
—With Gonzaga leading 60-57 and LMU planning its final possession during a timeout, the thought of the Zags’ fouling to prevent a tying 3-point attempt entered my mind — and quickly left. My memory isn’t the best, but I can’t remember Gonzaga choosing to foul in a similar situation.
This time, GU fouled and it worked out as planned. Gary Bell Jr. fouled Anthony Ireland, who made the first free throw, missed the second and Kevin Pangos rebounded the ball. Head coach Mark Few said several factors made it the right choice under the circumstances.
One, there were 6.5 seconds left. Two, LMU was inbounding the ball in backcourt. Three, Few was worried about LMU’s capable 3-point shooters, particularly Ireland and Drew Viney. Four, Few said he trusted Gary Bell Jr. to make the foul before letting Ireland get into his shooting motion. And five, Few was able to put his best rebounding unit on the floor.
“It puts you out there,” Few acknowledged. “I just thought in this gym and with Ireland capable of making crazy, talented shots and so is Viney, we needed to take the chance. We had a great blockout (on the miss) and it allowed (Pangos) to come from the top. It was perfectly executed on our guys’ part.”
—Senior center Robert Sacre was one of several Zags who dialed it up after a subpar performance in Thursday’s loss to Saint Mary’s. The normally high energy, active Sacre didn’t have his best effort against the Gaels, but he was much more involved against LMU.
It was evident he was ready to go before the game. He was the only player on either team wearing his game jersey (no shooting shirt) and game shorts (no sweats) during the Star Spangled Banner.
He finished with eight points, six boards and a pair of blocks. He was in foul trouble most of the second half after picking up a couple of fouls that looked questionable, one away from the ball and another as he gathered an offensive rebound.
Few chatted with Sacre following Thursday’s game.
“He was very active (against LMU),” Few said. “We had some talks and he had a good practice Friday night. We tried to get him back engaging. For whatever reason he kind of lost his way the last two weeks. We just want him getting back down there and engaging people in the post.”
Translation: Be physical, use your size to wear down opponents, draw fouls. Sacre got the message.
“He told me to be more aggressive,” Sacre said. “The calls weren’t going my way tonight, but I’m not going to argue with that. We had to keep battling through and me being aggressive helped the team out. (Few) told me if I’m more aggressive, it’ll help the team out even if I’m not getting the ball.”
Sacre was back in his role as the leader in the locker room, giving Pangos all kinds of grief for wanting to get a cat for a pet. (Sacre has two dogs, but he had no luck swaying Pangos’ decision.)
—Elias Harris continues to impress. The 6-foot-8 German produced 17 points on nine field goals, the longest of which was maybe a 6-foot jump hook. He had several layups, a putback and two dunks. He continues to play full throttle and with confidence, even after rough patches during games. That didn’t always happen last season.
Harris and Pangos needled each other afterward as they recalled the clinching play – Pangos’ feed to a cutting Harris for a layup with 8 seconds left.
“We were just talking about it,” Harris said. “I saw my man fake up (to help on a driving Pangos) and I took a small step (toward the basket). He threw the pass and in that moment, I knew I had to go get it, to bail him out.”
Harris then burst into laughter. From my angle court-side, Harris was blocked from my view and it appeared the pass was headed out of bounds before Harris raced in to snag it. He then used the backboard to shield the defender on his reverse layup.
“Kevin did a great job,” Harris said. “He made the game-winning pass, what else can you say.”
Said Pangos: “I was hoping he was going to cut. If he didn’t I was in trouble.”
—Pangos and Bell again displayed presence beyond their years. Pangos was face-guarded by Anthony Ireland most of the game. He only took one shot in the first half, a desperation 30-footer with the shot clock about to expire. He had three turnovers with some rare errors in his decision-making.
Pangos had a couple of open looks in the second half, hitting one 3-pointer. In the final 5 minutes, though, he drew a couple of fouls from Ireland, made 6 of 6 free throws, fed Harris for the layup and grabbed a rebound with 2 seconds left.
“They were denying me the ball and making it difficult for me,” Pangos said. “I wasn’t trying to force anything.”
He finished with nine points, three assists and four turnovers.
Bellmade 6 of 9 shots, a key 3, finished with 16 points, and grabbed four boards. He also had three assists.
“They were pressuring us a lot, denying every entry so I felt like there open lanes and good things happened,” Bell said.
Bell’s defense on Ireland (3 of 8 FG, 11 points, 7 turnovers) was solid. Same goes for when he switched onto the 6-7 Viney, who had a rough night (2-of-10 shooting, 6 points.). Mike Hart also did a nice job on Viney and was able to help at least twice and strip the ball from a driving Ireland.
“Gary was able to make plays against their pressure,” Few said. “He was the guy taking (two) charges, he was the guy guarding Ireland and switching on to Viney some times. He had a terrific game, and he did a lot of things that go unnoticed.”
—Seldom-used Mathis Keita got extended minutes for the first time in a long time in a close game. He capitalized with two points, two steals, one assist, one block and one turnover in 14 active minutes.
“A game like this is about toughness and he’s one of the tougher guys we have,” Few said. “We just made a substitution on toughness, nothing other than that. He’s a really tough kid that can deal with guys up into him. They were pressuring the ball. And he was tough at the other end.”
Keita’s playing time was a season high. He’d logged 28 minutes all season and had DNPs in six of the previous nine games.
“It just felt good to get out there,” he said. “I just tried to play with energy and it worked out pretty well.”
Keita said he’s had a good month of practice.
“I knew it would come. I was trying to stay ready,” he said. “I’m glad I got that block because I made a mistake on the inbound play. It probably gave me a couple more minutes of playing time.”
STATS OF NOTE
—While the Zags didn’t have their usual scoring balance in the last two games, they did have rebounding balance Saturday. Five Zags had between 4-6 rebounds (Harris, Sacre, Bell, Dower and Pangos). GU won the glass 32-30. Both teams had 12 offensive boards.
—GU was just 2 of 13 on 3-pointers.
—Gonzaga had a 38-20 edge in points in the paint, but LMU’s bench outscored Gonzaga’s 21-8.
—LMU was just 6 of 21 from the field in the second half (28.6%).
QUOTEBOOK (love those 5 p.m. starts)
FEW: “This is a tough road swing with Saint Mary’s and LMU nearly at full strength (guard Jarred DuBois didn’t play due to a concussion suffered two games ago). LMU is always going to fight you and they’re so athletic and tough. They run those isolations for some really gifted players and it puts a lot of stress on your defense. In the second half I thought we defended pretty darn well.”
SACRE ON GU’S DEFENSE: “It’s all about defense. Defense wins championships, ‘Bama’ showed that, San Francisco (49ers) showed that. That’s the key to winning.”
HARRIS ON LMU: “That was a major game. They were 3-1 coming in. I’m pretty sure they’re going to upset a couple of teams in our conference. Hats off to them.”
HARRIS ON VINEY’S TOUGH SHOOTING NIGHT: “That’s basketball, it really is. Unless your name is Kobe, there are going to be nights when things don’t go your way. He’s a good player and he understands that.”
LMU COACH MAX GOOD: “I thought we did a great job of guarding their perimeter, other than Bell made some tough buckets, really tough for a freshman. We actually executed two set plays perfectly and got them both blocked and we kind of dropped our heads. And the next thing you know Gonzaga is scoring at the other end.”
GOOD ON VINEY: “Shooters shoot. We told him to shoot. He came to me after the game and said, ‘Coach I let us down.’ I told him, ‘No, no, no. You let us down when you don’t give effort. Missing shots isn’t the same as lack of effort.”
GOOD ON GU DEFENDING IRELAND: “They were making sure they had him corralled. It’s almost like they talk about guarding (Tim) Tebow, keeping him in the pocket because Anthony is very quick east-west and north-south. They got wide and kept him in the chute, so to speak. Anthony did a great job guarding Pangos, but that affected his offense, too.”