Gonzaga’s 16-point lead against Dayton in the EA Sports Maui Invitational had slipped to nine at halftime.
On the Flyers’ first possession of the second half, GU twice failed to secure a defensive rebound and Dayton scored on a tip-in.
With 8:20 left, Gonzaga’s defense was in scramble mode after a Dayton player penetrated. The ball found an open perimeter shooter, who misfired. Two Flyers had inside position and Kendall Pollard hit a putback and was fouled. He missed the free throw and two Bulldogs touched the ball before it trickled out of bounds. Dayton didn’t take advantage, but still led 60-56.
With just under 5 minutes remaining, Devon Scott missed from the middle of the lane but two Zags didn’t block out. They were unable to grab the ball and it went out of bounds to Dayton. Jordan Sibert’s 3-pointer bumped Dayton’s lead to 70-63.
Near the 1-minute mark, Vee Stanford missed but a Dayton forward rose above a Gonzaga guard – Sam Dower Jr. and Przemek Karnowski had fouled out – and tipped the ball to a teammate. Sibert made another 3, doubling Dayton’s lead to six.
Gonzaga’s rebounding stats appear solid at first glance, plus 3.75 per game, but there’s a reason coach Mark Few has brought up the need to improve on the boards repeatedly in postgame interviews.
He even invoked sound effects following Sunday’s win over Coppin State.
“In that Dayton game, we’re right there and it’s kind of mano-a-mano and we’re just not quite opportunistic enough or tough enough or just errrr,” said Few, offering a growling sound. “If you go back and chart it from Maui, we had our hands on the ball and they got an and-one seven or eight times. The ball bounces around, they get it and it’s another foul on a big or Gary (Bell Jr.).”
In the Bulldogs’ two closest games, Dayton and Arkansas, they gave up 37 offensive rebounds and were outscored 37-11 in second-chance points. For the season, they’ve been outscored 95-78 in second-chance points, some of which is the product of Gonzaga not having nearly as many opportunities, thanks to its 55.8-percent field-goal shooting and its opponents’ 41.7.
Still, the Bulldogs have often played solid first-possession defense only to yield a deflating offensive rebound. Four foes have had double-digit offensive boards, which doesn’t count Simon Fraser’s 18 in an exhibition game.
“It’s uncanny with this group,” Few said. “It’s across the board, the two bigs, guards, some of the wings. We’re spending time on it.”
And the players are hearing about it.
“Nonstop, but it’s the truth,” wing Kyle Dranginis said. “Coach Few is going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not, that’s what makes his teams great. We need to man up and get it done.”
“Every single day, every time we pass him (on the bench),” forward Drew Barham said. “That’s one thing we really try to focus on, especially when we go small. I really need to come in and rebound. I didn’t have as many rebounds as I wanted in Maui so I really tried to amp it up (with six versus Coppin State).
“When we make them take a tough shot at the end of the shot clock, it’s secure the rebound and not let them get second opportunities.”
Rebounding has been one of the strengths of recent Gonzaga teams. The Bulldogs were plus-7.5 last season, plus 6.2 in 2012, plus 6.5 in 2011 and plus 4.5 in 2010. They had 36 more offensive rebounds than opponents in 2013, 26 in 2012 and 31 in 2011. In 2010, opponents pulled down 19 more offensive boards than Gonzaga.
GU ranks sixth in rebounding margin in the WCC. Only Santa Clara has a negative rebounding margin (minus 2.3).
“There is a strength and athleticism piece to it, too,” said Few, when asked if rebounding is a want-to issue. “And some just have a knack for going and getting the ball, just like some guys in football have a knack for hitting and other guys not so much. It’s something that we’re trying to bring out with this group and it’s something some of them, during their careers, have struggled with.”