Gonzaga demonstrated Thursday how thin its margin for error is compared to last year’s squad.
The Bulldogs didn’t play poorly. They didn’t play great. And somewhere in the middle, against a talented opponent feeding off 19,136 fans, wasn’t good enough.
BYU defeated GU 73-65 last night in a game where the stats were fairly similar for both teams. The biggest differences: rebounding (BYU 41-32, 10 second-chance points in the second half) and turnovers (GU’s 16 led to 18 Cougars’ points).
More below in my day after post.
--Thanks to ESPN shifting the game from 6 p.m. to 8 to accommodate rescheduling of Duke-UNC, last night became a deadline contest so post-game interviews were limited. (In a related note, I can’t wait for that 9 p.m. tip Saturday in San Diego.)
The Bulldogs and coach Mark Few were direct with their post-game comments. Sam Dower Jr. said BYU outplayed and outrebounded the Zags. He essentially said it could have been a different outcome had GU simply played harder.
GU did play hard, but there were several instances where it was beat on want-to/effort plays (boards, loose balls, etc.). In a tight game, those types of plays become huge and often stir up the crowd.
“We got the ball right where we wanted on maybe 3-4 possessions (early in the second half) and we had a couple guys that weren’t quite ready to compete tonight," coach Mark Few said. "You had to have your helmet on tonight and a couple of our guys didn’t, and that opened up opportunities for others.”
A look at the stats shows Dower played 20 minutes, scoring 14 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, but he struggled at times on the defensive end. Przemek Karnowski never got in the flow, playing 19 minutes and finishing with 8 points and 1 rebound. David Stockton had one of the toughest nights of his career, finishing with 2 points, 2 assists and 6 turnovers in 22 minutes.
In addition to several costly turnovers, Gonzaga’s primary issues were at the defensive end. The bigs were in foul trouble early, mainly due to freshman center Eric Mika’s head-down, drive-to-the-bucket style that resulted in him attempting nine free throws.
“Definitely being in foul trouble you can’t be as aggressive on defense as you want to be,” Dower said. “That opens up things for their bigs and they were trying to go at us every time.. And also trying to contest some of the guards when they were going into the lane, we got a lot of fouls. We were trying to go up straight, which they said is legal, but apparently we weren’t going up straight.”
Dower, by the way, appeared to pick up a phantom fourth foul when Mika flopped in the lane as the 6-9 forward posted up in the second half.
It wasn’t just Mika. BYU guards and wings aggressively drove the lane and picked up fouls on Zag bigs trying to slide over to help.
“They’re tough guys, really tough guys and they have an aggressive approach on offense, Few said. “And if you’re not ready to combat that, then … ”
--It was a similar story at the offensive end. Gonzaga had flashes of excellent play but the Zags weren’t able to sustain it, operating primarily against BYU’s 2-3 zone.
It didn’t help that GU missed 14 of 18 3-point attempts. Kevin Pangos said most of the 3s’ were “decent looks” but added that the Zags probably would have been more successful by punching it (driving into gaps).
Reserves Kyle Dranginis, Gerard Coleman and Ryan Edwards gave Gonzaga a lift offensively. Dranginis had six points in crunch time by piercing the zone. Coleman sliced into the paint for seven points. Edwards had a couple of layins, one on a putback and another off a Pangos’ pass.
“When we stick with the plan and move the ball and got it to the right spots, we got layups and good shots,” Few said. “I thought Kyle understood that, Kevin did a good job with that. For a while we were finding Sam and he was delivering but we came up empty on a couple of our post feeds and that hurt. We only had nine baskets in the second half.”
Dranginis led GU with four assists. Pangos had three, Bell and Stockton each had two.
“Basically we were trying to move it around, quick touches, and the middle punches were pretty wide open,” Dranginis said. “I was looking to punch the middle and find the gaps and then find shooters.”
--BYU made its defensive intentions known prior to the game. The Cougars dedicated their game plan toward limiting Gonzaga’s 3s. Part of that game plan included inserting Anson Winder into the starting lineup.
The athletic guard did a nice job hounding Pangos. Gary Bell Jr. also had an off shooting night (1 of 8 on 3s).
“Obviously they were dialed in to trying to chase Gary and Kevin a little bit,” Few said. “Gary had a lot of good looks. We just didn’t knock them down. But they did a good job locating Kevin.”
--Overshadowed in GU’s loss was a strong defensive effort on BYU’s Tyler Haws. He took just 12 shots and scored 12 points, half of his season average. Bell, Dranginis and occasionally Pangos guarded the talented 6-5 guard.
Haws has averaged 13.7 points against GU in four meetings, but several other Cougars (Winder, Mika, Carlino) stepped up last night to carry the scoring load.
“You can’t guard him one on one,” Dranginis said. “I thought we did a pretty good job.”
STATS OF NOTE
--Gonzaga had won the last five meetings with BYU.
--Anson Winder had 17 points – 10 of 10 FTs – in just his third start of the season. The BYU guard had a big night with 15 points against GU two years ago in the Marriott Center in another Cougars’ victory.
--Bell and Dranginis each had three steals.
--BYU made 14 of 16 second-half free throws after going 5 of 12 in the first 20 minutes.
--Ryan Edwards had five points, including his first two field goals of the season. His first 13 points had come from the FT line.
--Gonzaga was limited to 26 points in the second half.
Few: “Mika hurt us, especially when Shem wasn’t in there.”
Pangos: “We had some looks, we just didn’t knock them down.”
Few on costly GU turnovers: “You just can’t do that on the road.”
Dower on the environment: “It’s not tough. We live for games like this, big crowds, big games.”
Few on Edwards’ play: “That was good to see. We have to somehow find ways to get him more minutes.”
Few on Dranginis: “Kyle really understands how to play against zone and they played 35 minutes of zone. He’s the best zone player I’ve got.”
Dower: “When we rebound well, we play well as a team.”