SALT LAKE CITY – If you’ve been following the screeching from their opponents of late, you’re probably aware that the Gonzaga Bulldogs haven’t had to deal with much in the way of foul trouble this season.
Until Thursday night.
Except just when those critics expected the Zags to get their come-uppance from the whistle-blowers for once, Gonzaga weathered possibly the direst straits encountered all season in beating Xavier 79-75 in the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at Huntsman Center.
At the last TV timeout, the Zags were looking at a four-point deficit, with Xavier shooting a pair of free throws. Starters Sean Mallon and Derek Raivio had fouled out. Center J.P. Batista and forward Erroll Knight were nursing four fouls, and the Musketeers had already shot 31 free throws.
“The only time I can remember it that bad was the UW game,” said forward David Pendergraft, “and we didn’t even win that one. J.P. and Sean got in foul trouble and Derek went down hurt in that one, and tonight he fouled out.”
UW went to the line 35 times in that one, but as big as the foul shots were the fouls themselves were a bigger problem – as they were Thursday night. Xavier, too, had players burdened by four fouls, but their style had given Gonzaga fits – particularly with Batista and Mallon chasing perimeter-shooting big men Justin Doellman and Josh Duncan and trying to fit through picks and screens.
“They’re a hard guard,” Few said. “They put all five guys out and they can drive it and they shoot the 3. They’re basically like a more athletic Princeton-like team. They’re going to spread out and then find a mismatch and drive it, and that’s not J.P.’s forte out there, chasing athletic guys around on the perimeter. And we were always kind of covering for that.”
His take on the officiating?
“The game was called fine,” Few said.
No, no, no … yes!
Few admitted he clenched up a little bit when Erroll Knight let fly with a 3-pointer with about 7 minutes to play as the Zags were trying to cut into Xavier’s lead and every possession counted.
But Knight’s 3 found all net, cutting GU’s deficit to 61-59, and in its own way was as big a bucket emotionally as several the Bulldogs made later to overtake the Musketeers.
“When he gets in a flow like that, it comes off his hand really good and he hits those,” Few said. “It’s when he stops and is out of rhythm and thinks about it that it’s not (good). But when Erroll’s flowing, he can make that. He made tons last year.”
Knight wound up playing a season-high 25 minutes, scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds.
“We just have a lot better aura when he’s flying around. He wasn’t in the first half, but I think he didn’t want his season to end right there and he stepped up and made a lot of plays that got our whole team going.”
GU coach Mark Few was asked about the way Adam Morrison was barking at some of his teammates during the first half of Thursday’s game, when he apparently felt he wasn’t getting enough touches.
“I’ve never met anybody as competitive as him,” Few said of his volatile junior wing. “His great shot-making and competitiveness collide in these games, and sometimes spills over.
“He’s borderline, up-to-the line crazy at times, but we usually get him toned back down and focused.”
Teammate J.P. Batista also addressed the issue.
“He don’t talk to me like that, or I’ll just … ,” the 269-pound senior center said, forcefully throwing out his massive arm. “No, I was just kidding. That’s just the way Adam is, and we all understand that.”
No needles, please
Batista was also asked what it’s like to be on the bench when Morrison, a Type I diabetic, injects himself with insulin during the game.
“I don’t even look, because I’m so scared of needles,” he said. “Sometimes, when I see that needle, I just turn my head around.
“I never sit by him because of that.”
Few was questioned after the game about a remark he allegedly made about being willing to listen if Indiana wanted to talk to him about the Hoosiers’ head coaching job, which will become vacant at the end of the year when Mike Davis steps aside.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever said I’d listen,” Few said. “Some (reporters) have asked me, but I said this is not the time to be talking about that stuff.
“I’m just dialed into keeping us playing. I want to keep playing with these guys. I want to keep helping them as much as I can.”
Seeing the light?
One reporter asked Morrison about not being religious.
“I won’t say I’m not religious,” he said. “I just don’t go to church. And coming from a Catholic school, that’s not always looked up upon.
“Hopefully, I’ll see the light. Let’s just put it that way.”