It takes some doing to shoot 60.3 percent from the field, 71.4 percent in the second half, and have most of the post-game conversation center on the defense.
Gonzaga’s ‘D’ was that good in the first half, holding IUPUI without a field goal for the first 10 minutes and triggering an 86-56 men’s basketball runaway Sunday witnessed by another sellout crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center, though there were numerous vacancies in the student section.
That, and the 1 p.m. start time, made for a subdued atmosphere, but it hardly mattered as GU players brought their own enthusiasm and jumped on the Jaguars from the opening tip. The Zags led 16-2 before John Ashworth connected on a jumper with 10:23 remaining.
“We won it in a totally different way (than Friday’s 117-72 drubbing of Southern),” head coach Mark Few said. “We had to grind it and we really played exceptional defense for most of the game.”
Senior guard Steven Gray jammed the stat sheet again with 17 points – becoming the 33rd Bulldog to reach 1,000 career points – eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals. IUPUI opened up in a box-and-one, with Stephen Thomas tracking Gray, but Gray patiently found his shots and helped teammates find theirs.
Gray also defended 6-foot-6 Alex Young, who led the Jaguars in scoring at 18.3 points per game last season. Young was whistled for three charging fouls in the first half, two in the first 3-plus minutes. Young missed a couple of 3-pointers and then, under heavy pressure from Gray, put up an air ball. He was 0 for 4 at the break with his only points coming on three free throws.
Leroy Nobles, Young’s sidekick who averaged 13.2 points per game last season, was 0 for 7 in the first half.
“It was more being able to guard everyone,” sophomore forward Kelly Olynyk said. “We switched a lot of stuff, tried to take away their easy shots so they couldn’t get going because once they get going, they’re tough to stop.”
That switching left 7-foot center Rob Sacre occasionally 20 feet from the hoop, defending a quick Jaguars guard. On consecutive possessions in the second half, Sacre’s defense forced turnovers, one by Ashworth and another by Nobles, leading to Mathis Mönninghoff’s layup.
“I was basically guarding our guards over the summer,” Sacre said. “It’s one of those things where I tell myself, ‘Don’t fall. Move my feet so I don’t fall.’”
Few said Sacre’s defense “was a key to this game. We were able to switch with Rob and he does it quite frankly better than some of our 3s and 4s. He gets in a stance and I think it gets everybody else going.”
IUPUI was 0 of 11 on 3s in the first half and 4 of 23 overall (17.4 percent). The Jaguars, Young and Nobles in particular, warmed up in the second half, but never seriously cut into Gonzaga’s 19-point halftime lead.
Olynyk, coming off the bench after starting Friday’s opener, had nine first-half points en route to finishing with 13, equaling his career high. Few never gets too worked up about the starting five and he said “it’s going to be different every game. It’s matchups. They were smaller and ran a bunch of ball screens. Three through 12 (on the roster) are pretty tight, so it’s about going with hunches on who might help us.”
Olynyk found gaps in IUPUI’s zone, connecting on 6 of 7 shots.
“You have to seal and create openings for your guards to pass,” Olynyk said. “You’re basically moving into open space like a receiver does against a zone in football.”
Sacre and Sam Dower, each with 11 points, and Mönninghoff (10) joined Olynyk and Gray in double figures.
Tickets for the Gonzaga-Memphis men’s basketball game Feb. 5 at the Spokane Arena go on sale to the general public today at all TicketsWest outlets or at www.ticketswest.com. Proceeds from the game benefit the local Ronald McDonald House chapter.