Steven Gray sat in a chair on what would normally be the visiting team’s bench at the McCarthey Athletic Center, watching Gonzaga teammates attempt 3-pointers from nearby seats. He had his arms draped over the top of adjacent chairs. And he didn’t move much during a short interview.
As those who’ve experienced back issues know, once you find a comfortable position, you tend to stay put.
Gray left Saturday’s win over Baylor with back spasms so painful they dropped the senior guard to the American Airlines Center court. He didn’t practice Monday and was walking gingerly when he left the MAC, where Gonzaga (6-5) entertains Xavier (7-2) on Wednesday.
Gray locked up when he bent over to pick up the ball after Demetri Goodson had drawn a charging foul. He played one more offensive and defensive possession before he slowly went prone in the lane.
“It got to be too much,” he said, “and I didn’t want to be (standing) up any more.”
Gray has had a sore back before, but nothing like Saturday’s episode, he said. He called the flight home from Texas “one of the longest four hours I’ve experienced.”
He’s receiving numerous forms of treatment and his back is feeling better. His return to the court will depend on how quickly he responds to treatment.
“It’s locked up, but it’s getting a lot better,” he said. “I haven’t had the spasms; it’s just been sore.”
Junior center Robert Sacre couldn’t remember another game when the Bulldogs encountered as much adversity.
Gray, the team’s leading scorer, left with 5 minutes to go in the first half. Elias Harris, the team’s leading returning scorer from last season, played just 18 minutes before departing with his fifth foul with 6:22 left. A couple other Bulldogs were in foul trouble and Baylor always seemed to be at the free-throw line.
“Rob was a rock all game, especially with (Baylor’s) extended zone,” head coach Mark Few said. “He was a guy we wanted to go to and play off, and he was throwing the ball out as well as doing some damage with post moves. Then Kelly (Olynyk) and Marquise (Carter) stepped up and made a couple of big shots. That’s the difference when guys can step up and make plays.”
Sacre had 17 points, six rebounds and three assists. He played the last four-plus minutes with four fouls.
“There were a lot of distractions, but none of us were really distracted. Our main goal was to get a win,” Sacre said. “I knew that I needed to step up my leadership and I feel like I did. I’m proud of everyone. We played as hard as we could.”
Executing the plan
Few was pleased with the way his players took the game plan from practice to the game. Gonzaga worked inside-out for good shots against Baylor’s zone and held the Bears’ offense to 36.7-percent shooting with a variety of defenses.
“We used triangle-and-two, zone, man. We had to switch it up because they were so long and talented and the coaches did a good job keeping them off guard,” Goodson said. “The whole week in practice coaches harped on us ball-faking and getting it inside because their zone is so spread out and the bigs are one-on-one.”
The Bulldogs scored on eight of 11 possessions in the final 5 minutes. They had two turnovers and missed the front end of a one-and-one.
“We didn’t have a lot of lapses where guys forgot their assignments or what we were doing with certain personnel,” Few said.
Gonzaga can’t afford to celebrate with Xavier, which has made five straight NCAA tournaments, visiting Wednesday.
“It’s nice that they can draw off (the Baylor win) and a lot of things that we can teach off the film, but we don’t have much time,” Few said. “We have a really good team coming in here. We have to get that same kind of effort that we got in the Baylor game.”