I admit to being distracted while writing up Gonzaga's 59-56 win over San Diego last night. The end of the Portland-BYU thriller was on TV and it drew a crowd to the media room — GU officials, San Diego coaches, etc. You know it's a wild game when fan reactions — cheers and groans — from the nearby Herak Room filter into the media room.
BYU's loss in triple overtime dropped the Cougars to 5-3 in conference. GU leads the way at 7-1, followed by Saint Mary's at 5-2.
Read on for my day-after post.
—As Mark Few mentioned in my game story, Gonzaga had opportunities to open up a comfortable lead but an ill-timed turnover or lapse put an end to that notion. It resembled the LMU game in some ways, but San Diego deserves full credit for challenging the Bulldogs from start to finish.
The Toreros defended well, essentially battled to a draw on the boards, controlled the pace and Johnny Dee gave the Zags’ defense fits. The latter has happened before. Dee had 21 points in USD’s near upset over the Bulldogs last season. Dee and running mate Christopher Anderson are a handful, along with the post presence of Dennis Kramer (10 points, seven boards) and wing Duda Sanadze, who had a tough shooting night: 1 of 5 on 3s, 2 of 10 overall.
Dee scored 26 points on 8 of 10 shooting. His only misses bookended 8 straight makes – errant runners in the first 90 seconds and with 4:30 left. USD’s lack of a second scorer against GU led to several scoring droughts, a near 7-minute dry spell in the first half and just one field goal in the final 7:50.
Dee was a force, scoring in transition, off the bounce and with spot-up 3s after running defenders around countless screens. But GU was able to keep the ball out of his hands, for the most part, in the final few minutes.
“They played well,” Przemek Karnowski said.
“They’re always a tough team,” added Sam Dower Jr.
San Diego coach Bill Grier hasn’t had much luck in Spokane – double-digit losses in six previous games – but the Toreros usually give Gonzaga all it can handle at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.
“For the most part we defended pretty well,” Grier said. “A part of that was that we didn’t turn the ball over. That’s where these guys, and some other teams in our league, kill you. You turn it over and it’s instant offense. When they went on that 14-0 run, it was because of some turnovers really.
“If you only turn it over nine times against them in here, that’s a good effort by us.”
Grier’s club is 2-6 in conference, including four losses by four points or less.
—Gerard Coleman is the latest Zag dealing with a nasty flu bug. He played four minutes in the first and had a pair of nice assists, but he wasn’t on the bench for the second half.
“He was really sick, throwing up at halftime,” Few said.
Several of his teammates had showered, dressed and exited the locker room when I saw Coleman, still in uniform, seated by his locker stall. He had a towel draped over his head and was cutting tape off his ankle. He barely raised his head and nodded when I asked him if he felt as bad as he looked.
Said David Stockton, who was sick a few weeks ago: “We just keep trading it around.”
—Sam Dower Jr. continues to put up big numbers. He had 18 points and 10 boards last night. That’s five straight games in double figures, including 28 and 18 in his previous two. His rebounding totals are trending upward.
“I’m just trying to play hard,” he said. “The coaches are always on me about trying to fly around. I’m just trying to play my hardest.”
Said Few: “He did a nice job of picking and popping and finding that sweet spot where he can find his jumper. I think he did some good things and some not-so-good things.”
—Gary Bell Jr. played 22 minutes in his return from a broken right hand. He finished with five points and was the primary defender on Dee in the closing minutes. Bell only had one practice (Wednesday) before taking the court.
“It definitely felt good,” Bell said. “I didn’t think I was that rusty, I just tried to pick my spots and not try to force anything. I made one (shot), it was good enough to get the win.”
Kyle Dranginis, who moved into the starting lineup in Bell’s six-game absence, remained the starter. He played 30 minutes and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Bell wore an elastic band around his last two fingers for protection (he fractured the fourth metacarpal).
“We need to get him a little more comfortable, a little more rhythm,” Few said of Bell. “He turned down some looks that he usually takes. I think that’s just because he hasn’t practiced. We’ll continue to get him back in the mix. It was nice to be able to have another body out there defensively.”
—Kevin Pangos, in a bit of shooting slump of late, made 5 of 10 attempts, including the game’s biggest basket, a twisting drive into the lane and finish over USD shot-blocker Jito Kok with 1:25 left. Pangos finished with 11 points.
He’s made just 15 of his last 45 shots, including 5 of 21, in GU’s last four games. Anderson did a nice job defensively on Pangos, but the junior guard, as he’s done numerous times while dealing with his turf toe injury since early December, still came up with clutch baskets. He nailed a jumper on a designed inbounds play with 9:15 left to give GU a 53-47 lead.
—Gonzaga attempted just 4 FTs, equaling the number it had in a 2002 game against Stanford. USD was 14 of 15 at the foul line.
Here’s a list of GU games with single-digit FT attempts (from GU's sports information department):
-6 of 8 vs. USF, Dec., 2011
-6 of 7 vs. WSU, Dec., 2008
-5 of 6 vs. Oklahoma, Dec., 2007
-6 of 8 vs. Georgia, Dec., 2006
-4 of 7 vs. Saint Mary’s, Dec., 2007
-6 of 8 vs. Stanford, Dec., 2003
-3 of 4 vs. Stanford, Dec. 2002
STATS OF NOTE
—Dower made 2 of 3 3-pointers and at least one mid-range jumper. He was 2 of 6 on 3s before Thursday’s game.
—Dee made 7 of 7 FTs, running his streak of consecutive makes to 41.
—Bell scored GU’s only bench points (5).
—Not often you see these numbers – 48% FG, 39% 3-pointers, 12 assists, 8 turnovers – add up to just 59 points. Gonzaga’s previous season low was 62 points vs. Kansas State.
—The Zags had a 26-18 edge in point paints.
—Five different Bulldogs made 3s, led by Dranginis’ and Dower’s two.
Grier: “You can’t trade baskets with this team. I thought during the stretch where we got down 8 or 9 in the second half, we strung some stops together and scored and dug our way out of hole, which is something. The team we had my first year that went to the tournament it was a close game up here but some of the other teams we’ve gotten in that hole and that hole has gotten enormous and we haven’t been able to get out of it.”
Few: “It was a good win. We had to dig deep, really deep. San Diego came in here and got that thing at their pace and made enough big plays to keep it tight — and we haven’t had a tight one for a while. We responded by getting a couple of stops down the stretch, and made just enough plays on offense to get her done.”
Few on Karnowski: “I thought he made really strong, forceful moves in there and no doubt they were going in, whereas in the first half maybe you didn’t have that feeling. He really stepped up when we were struggling.”
Few on defending Dee: “Kyle probably did as good a job on him as anybody in the first half. He’s tough, freedom to shoot to 30 feet, he knows how to draw fouls, he was getting in the lane and making some plays. They did a great job of being patient and looking at him over and over again until he made the right play.”