Rebounding, defense, offense, mentality, approach, shooting, confidence, effort, slow starts, shaky finishes, playing together, being the aggressor and the schedule.
And A.J. Price.
Ask Gonzaga players or head coach Mark Few for some of the reasons why the Bulldogs have dropped three straight men’s basketball games and four of the last five, and the responses are widespread.
There’s likely some truth in everyone’s opinion as Gonzaga (8-4) tries to figure out how it has gone from being No. 4 in the country on Dec. 8 to unranked in the polls released Monday.
“We played very good basketball against Connecticut, but a guy (Price) threw in a fluky 3 (late in regulation) and we lost that game and our players walked out really beating themselves up over it,” said Few, whose club visits No. 15 Tennessee on Wednesday. “We can talk and talk and talk as a staff, but each individual guy needs to get his confidence back and get back to doing the positive things they were doing, and collectively as a group we have to get back to that.”
Few mentioned several other factors.
“If you don’t play really good basketball when you play a schedule like this, you’re going to get beat,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on going undefeated this year, not with a schedule like this. With this particular group, as I’ve said all along, when we’re playing well together and playing hard and we’re opportunistic, we can play with anybody in the country, but we’re not just a juggernaut.
“If you go back and look over my comments, this is not the most talented team in Gonzaga history. Everybody wanted to paint that picture, but I’ve been pretty consistent in that we need to really play together, offensively and defensively, and make shots in order for us to be successful.”
Senior wing Micah Downs said rebounding and transition defense have been focal points in practice.
“In the preseason, and especially down at the Old Spice (Classic), at the start of games we were coming out and throwing the first punches,” Downs said. “We’ve kind of lost that and not really attacked. We’ve just bobbed and weaved – that’s the coaches’ analogy. We have to get back to being the aggressor.”
“The last three games were tough,” senior guard Jeremy Pargo said. “We didn’t have a great approach at the beginning of games. We pretty much lost the first eight minutes of every game.”
Several players said coaches are simplifying things, but Few preferred to call it a time “where we’re identifying roles better.
“We’ve had a tendency now, and I don’t think it’s selfish, that it’s, ‘I have to make something happen to help the team.’ We’re better off when we’re getting each other shots, moving the ball and doing something to get somebody else a shot instead of taking it on ourselves.”
Downs and Pargo said the team remains tight and there hasn’t been any finger-pointing during the losing streak.
“We went to a movie (“Valkyrie”) last night and we went laser-tagging a few nights before that,” Downs said. “We’re going bowling today. We’re just doing a lot of stuff, hanging out together and just trying to make sure we stick together as a team because it’s really easy to crumble when you hit adversity like we have.”
“We’re fine,” Pargo added. “It’s coming back, slowly but surely, and once we get it all back together we’ll be fine. It’s still early in the year and we still have a lot of opportunities to become a great team and do the things we’ve always wanted to do as a team.”
Downs said the sprained left ankle he suffered against Utah was “minor” and was feeling fine by the next day.
Reserve center Rob Sacre is still in a holding pattern, waiting to see if rest will be enough to heal his foot. “The screw that was put in his foot (in early October) is bent because of the impact when he hurt it (Dec. 5),” Few said.
Sacre, whose foot is in walking boot, has missed GU’s last five games.