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Gonzaga’s success draws heavily on the line

Bob Knight stresses the importance of getting to the free-throw line during nearly every game he serves as an ESPN college basketball analyst.

LSU found that it went 120-14 from 2003-09 when attempting more free throws than opponents. The Tigers were 50-35 when opponents had more attempts. LSU went 91-15 when it got to the line at least 20 times.

At Gonzaga, it’s one of the three primary team goals: Limit opponents to 30 points or less each half, commit six turnovers or fewer each half and get to the foul line at least 10 times each half.

“If you do one of those, you’re probably going to win,” Bulldogs assistant coach Ray Giacoletti said. “You do two, it’s done.”

Gonzaga has made frequent trips to the stripe this season, attempting 220 more free throws than opponents. Over the previous 10 seasons, Gonzaga has attempted more free throws than its foes every year – the margin as small as plus-29 in 2007 and topping out at plus-247 in 2005 (Adam Morrison, J.P. Batista and Ronny Turiaf).

The five WCC teams with winning records all have attempted more free throws than their opponents this season. The four with losing records have attempted fewer. Gonzaga scores 24.7 percent of its points at the free-throw line, 16th nationally, according to New Mexico State is No. 1 at 27.8 percent.

The Zags are fourth in free-throw attempts per game (26, up nearly three per game from last season) and ninth in free throws made (18.2).

“We don’t put as much foul pressure on the drive as some of the other teams we’ve had, but Rob (Sacre) posts hard, ‘E’ (Elias Harris) does a good job, especially when he faces up and attacks,” coach Mark Few said. “Gary (Bell Jr.) can develop into somebody that can put some foul pressure on you. He’s been sneakily climbing up the free-throw numbers.”

Gonzaga’s inside-outside style is conducive to drawing fouls. Sacre, a 7-foot center, leads Gonzaga with 124 free throws attempts. He’s made 77.4 percent, a vast improvement from his first two seasons at 63 percent. Kevin Pangos, who often has the ball in his hands late in close games, has made 84 percent of his 82 attempted free throws. Harris, third in attempts with 78, has made just 63 percent, but he’s hit 14 of his last 17 (82.3 percent).

“Rob does a better job (posting up) than anybody we’ve had probably since Ronny,” Few said. “He posts you legally and if it’s being officiated the right way you pretty much have to foul him. He doesn’t duck his shoulders. He’s just a big-bodied guy who posts tall and wide.”

Gonzaga has committed 280 fouls, opponents 403.

“It’s a key factor, getting to the line and trying to get easy points,” Harris said. “They should be the easiest points because nobody is contesting it. Coach Few always emphasizes it, trying to put the other team in foul trouble. At the end of the day it makes life easier – you get the 1 and 1s and then you get 2 shots (at 10 fouls) – especially down the stretch.”


Forward Ryan Spangler had a check-up Monday on his surgically repaired finger and his recovery is on schedule. His goal is to return for the Saint Mary’s game Feb. 9. … Sacre has 169 career blocks and trails second-place Turiaf by seven. Casey Calvary swatted 207 shots from 1998-2001. … According to, Few sent an encouraging text to Kyle Stanley, who blew a three-shot lead on No. 18 and lost the Farmers Insurance Open to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff Sunday. Stanley grew up in Gig Harbor, Wash., and is an avid Zags fan, despite playing collegiate golf at Clemson.