Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. apparently didn’t get the memo that true freshmen guards tend to struggle at times against quality collegiate competition, especially on the road in packed arenas.
They’ve gone against experienced Pac-12 guards and two of the better backcourts in the Big Ten Conference. They’ve tangled with Notre Dame’s dandy starting guards. They encountered perhaps their biggest challenge to date Saturday against Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. Holloway was an All-American last season and one writer’s preseason pick as national player of the year. Lyons, who earned All-Atlantic 10 honors last season, is averaging 17.2 points per game.
Holloway scored 15 points against Bell and Gonzaga’s defense, but he committed five turnovers and was rarely able to get the free-throw line, where he typically averages 10 attempts per game. Lyons needed 16 shots to score 15 points.
“Gary really did a nice job and we did a nice job in the gaps, shoring up (Holloway’s) penetration,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, reflecting on GU’s 72-65 victory. “Rob (Sacre) took a huge charge. (Holloway) was frustrated, not just with Gary’s defense but with our help-side collapsing.”
Pangos had a tough shooting night (3 of 10, 1 of 7 on 3s) and he committed five turnovers, but he made one of the biggest baskets – a 3-pointer with 2:30 left to give Gonzaga a seven-point lead. He finished with 13 points and seven assists.
Asked what goes through his mind when he makes a mistake, Pangos said, “The first thing is, ‘Kevin, that was stupid,’ and after that it’s on to the next play. We don’t stress over it. We’re working toward the goal and that’s to win the game.”
Bell and Pangos have demonstrated an ability to influence a game without having to score points.
“That’s a great trait,” Few said. “Gary doesn’t really have a weakness to his game. He can shoot, play off the dribble, finish and he can certainly pass. He plays well defensively on the ball and off the ball.
“Traditionally some of our freshmen guards have had a lot of problems, especially with life on the road, and there were numerous opportunities in that game for Kevin to wilt. He had a couple of bonehead turnovers and they started to rally but he didn’t wilt. He just came back. I talked to both of them about the challenge against those two guards and they had smiles on their faces. They weren’t afraid. They have a nice, quiet confidence about them. It’s not the exuberant arrogance you see so much of in college basketball. It’s a quiet confidence that some of our guards from the past had.”
Pangos’ experience in all-star games and playing for Canadian national teams helped prepare him for his freshman season. Bell played on a high-powered AAU team and was ranked among the top 75 prep players by several recruiting services.
“They play well together and not to be lost in this is David (Stockton) plays well with them,” Few said. “For stretches in that game we played the three little guys and they held their own.”
GU on Birch’s list
Khem Birch, a former McDonald’s All-American who left the University of Pittsburgh recently, is interested in several schools, including Gonzaga. The 6-foot-9 forward will reportedly visit Florida, New Mexico State and UNLV soon and he’s planning on touring Gonzaga and Oregon State, according to ESPNBoston.com.
Birch, who is from Montreal, and Pangos played for Canada in the 2010 Nike Global Challenge tournament and they’ve practiced together on the national team.
“I’ve stayed in touch with him while he was at Pitt and tried to support him more than anything,” Pangos said.