Business is about to pick up for Gonzaga, which faces its first true road game Tuesday at West Virginia, then takes on South Alabama in Seattle and Kansas State in Wichita.
The Bulldogs enter that stretch following an 80-68 victory New Mexico State on Saturday, but they now have some injury issues with guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.
More below in my day-after post (warning: it's a long one!).
—We'll start with Pangos, who hurt his toe in practice a couple of days ago.
“The last few days have been a little rough,” said Pangos, who was icing the digit after the game. “Just a little sprain thing, turf toe.”
It took a while for Pangos to operate effectively as NMSU face-guarded him (and Bell, too) to keep the ball out of his hands.
“It was a really odd defense,” Pangos said. “It was tough to get the ball, first half especially, but we figured it out later on. The first four minutes was a little different, but once the adrenaline kicked in it (the toe) was fine.”
—Bell said he hurt his right hip in a collision with Pangos in pursuit of a rebound. Watching the replay, it appears that collision took place in the final minute of the first half. Bell started in the second half but exited with 17:55 remaining and didn’t return.
“Just the hip bone,” Bell said. “I don’t know what it is. I’m going to ice it. I’ll be ready on Tuesday.”
Asked if he could have returned in the second half against New Mexico State, Bell said, “It was pretty bad, I don’t think I could have gone back in.”
—Two players, Sam Dower Jr. and Gerard Coleman, and two things, defense and rebounding, kept Gonzaga afloat during a rough first half. Dower and Coleman combined for 18 points.
New Mexico State took an early lead and was getting quality shots but the Bulldogs started to dial in defensively. The Aggies’ shooting percentage, in the mid-to-upper 50s as the Aggies built early leads of 5-6 points, slowly started dropping. They were in the 30s before picking it back up in the last 10 minutes.
“We played pretty good defense for good stretches of that game,” Few said. “I thought we guarded very well. They have a knack for getting to free-throw line — someone told me they shoot more free throws than anyone in the country – but until the end when they were just driving it and drawing (fouls) we did a nice job keeping them off the line.”
Bulldogs guards, particularly Bell and Pangos, have been rock solid all season and the team has been lethal from 3. Against NMSU, Bell, Pangos and David Stockton had just 8 points combined in the first half. GU was 0 of 5 in the first half before warming to 4 of 5 in the second half (Pangos was 3 of 4, including one from at least 26 feet).
Gonzaga’s rebounding, a sore spot in several games this season, was a difference-maker against the Aggies. The Zags came up with 18 offensive rebounds, good for 22 second-chance points. The Zags won the glass 45-30.
“We were able to outrebound a great rebounding team by 15 and I thought that was a real positive because that’s primarily what we worked on all week,” Few said.
—As advertised, the Aggies were huge. Sim Bhullar, 7-5 and 355 pounds, made 7-1, 296-pound Przemek Karnowski look small, much the same way Karnowski made Kelly Olynyk (7-0, 240) look small in practice last season.
Bhullar made a couple of early baskets and swatted four shots, but he was in early foul trouble and was essentially a non-factor most of the contest. He finished with 6 points, 5 boards and 3 turnovers in 21 minutes.
Power forward Tshilidzi Nephawe, 6-10 and 265, was more of a factor offensively. He had several nice post moves en route to 13 points and eight rebounds.
Bhullar inadvertently played a key role in Gonzaga’s second-half surge. Bhullar was called for a flagrant 1 foul when his elbow caught Karnowski’s chin early in the second half. The foul cost NMSU a possession, Karnowski hit 1 of 2 FTs and the Zags scored on the ensuing possession to turn a 33-30 lead into 36-30.
“They are a unique team that is really athletic and obviously with my buddy Sim (Bhullar) in there, they are one of a kind,” said Pangos, who is from Holland Landing, about an hour drive from Bhullar's residence in Toronto. “It’s something that’s tough to prepare for. I thought we did a good job with that considering it’s a different style to play against.”
Nephawe’s reluctance to leave the paint allowed Dower several open jump shots. Dower, in his words, “missed a lot of jumpers I usually make”, but he kept plugging away. He eventually hit a few perimeter shots, but did most of his damage on the low block, running the floor in transition and on the offensive glass, including a monster slam of a Pangos miss in the second half.
“I thought New Mexico State did a great job with their game plan,” Few said. “They came in and played a couple of different defenses that we’ve never seen them play, and they tried to take away some of our main options by face-guarding them and making some other guys make plays. I thought our guys did a great job of not panicking, and at the end of the day we scored 80 points and got a good win against a probable NCAA Tournament team.
“We were tempted to take shots early because they weren’t guarding people, and I thought we did a great job of taking shots on our terms and getting the ball to the spots we needed to. Then a lot of times we ended up hustling and fighting for offensive rebounds against a team that was considerably bigger and stronger than us.”
—Coleman scored a season-high 21 points, most in typical Coleman fashion, which isn’t typical at all. He seems to have an extra gear in transition, and that motor kept him in the game in the second half after he’d made a couple of mistakes (see my game story, link above). He slashed from the wing for several buckets and the 6-4 guard had one memorable play when he drove into the body of the 7-5 Bhullar and still flipped in an off-balance shot from 5 feet. Coleman also connected on a 13-foot jumper, perhaps his longest non-FT points of the season.
“They weren’t guarding him and one thing Gerard can do if you don’t guard him is he’s going to snake his way to the rim and make plays,” Few said. “For the most part, I thought he did a nice job of finishing plays and making them.”
(Best visual of the night: In GU’s zone defense, Coleman straining to see around Bhullar when the ball was on the opposite side of the floor.)
STATS OF NOTE
—Gonzaga’s four 3-pointers was its lowest of the season. GU was 5 of 19 from long distance against Dayton. GU’s 10 3-point attempts was its lowest by far (Dayton, Byrant each 19).
—GU’s eight turnovers equaled a season low.
—Dower’s 22 points was his season high.
—Gonzaga had just two assists on 13 first-half field goals. The Zags had 11 assists on 20 second-half FGs. Pangos had all six of his six assists after intermission.
—Karnowski had a couple of head-scratching plays – missing an uncontested layup and putting up an airball from 4 feet when he lost his balance in the lane – but he still made key contributions at both ends in his matchup against Khullar.
Karnowski finished with nine points and nine boards, five offensive. He made 5 of 9 FTs. He didn’t commit a turnover in 23 minutes.
—Kyle Dranginis didn’t score and didn’t even attempt a shot, but he had five boards, two assists, two steals and a block in 27 minutes. Drew Barham also chipped in seven rebounds and four points in 25 minutes.
Dower: “That was definitely the biggest team we’ve played so far, as far as bigs with guys bigger than Shem. We just took what their defense gave us.”
Pangos on his 9 rebounds: “The rebounds, they give me credit but it’s everybody else doing the work and I kind of sneak in there and grab the ball.”
Few on Pangos: “I thought Kevin was unbelievable. He hurt his toe in practice and we didn’t know whether he was going to play. We didn’t make a decision until game time.”