SEATTLE – Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few tried – without much success – to convince anyone who would listen that South Alabama wasn’t a pushover.
Few tried to impart to his team that the Jaguars were a solid rebounding team. He didn’t seem to have much luck there either.
The 20th-ranked Bulldogs jumped in front 22-3, giving the false impression that a rout was imminent. South Alabama, riding a career-high 35 points from senior forward Augustine Rubit, pushed Gonzaga to the finish line, forcing the Bulldogs to dig out a 68-59 victory Saturday in the Battle in Seattle.
The Bulldogs improved to 10-1 in front of a KeyArena crowd of 9,140, the lowest attendance of the 11 Battles in Seattle. GU typically brings in a high-profile opponent for the Seattle game but it had its hands full with South Alabama. It took a 20-point night from Gary Bell Jr. and a boost off the bench from Kyle Dranginis, who finished with nine points, four rebounds and two steals, to subdue the Jaguars (5-5).
Sam Dower Jr. had 12 points and 11 rebounds and Przemek Karnowski chipped in nine points and eight boards, but the guards – Bell, Dranginis, Kevin Pangos had nine of his 10 points in the second half and David Stockton added eight points and four steals – orchestrated Gonzaga’s sixth consecutive win. Pangos hasn’t been able to practice after spraining his right big toe about 10 days ago.
“I tried to tell people that I thought they were pretty good, you were the guys that didn’t think they were any good,” Few said. “They were outstanding rebounders. I tried to talk about that all week and we tried to practice against it all week and they exploited us mightily in that regard … We faced two very good rebounders (Rubit and Mychal Ammons) and got it handed to us.”
But, Few added, “We won. As long as you’re keeping score, that’s a good thing.”
Gonzaga dominated the first 10 minutes, bolting in front by 19 on the strength of 11 second-chance points. The Bulldogs’ early rebounding dominance didn’t hold up and they finished with 11 second-chance points.
“We just gave up boxing out or pursuing balls,” Dower said. “A lot of balls went off our hands. We have to learn how to pursue balls and secure them. When we rebound, we normally win games.”
Gonzaga’s offense slid off course with some questionable shot selection and several unforced turnovers. The nation’s top 3-point shooting team finished just 2 of 14 (14.3 percent) beyond the arc.
An 11-2 closing kick, punctuated by a Dranginis floater just before the buzzer, gave GU a 41-25 halftime lead. Bell had 14 of his 20 point in the first half.
“My family comes out,” said Bell, a Kent, Wash., native who estimated 20 friends and relatives were in attendance. “They usually never get to watch me play in person, like my grandma, so it’s nice to have them at the game.”
Karnowski scored on Gonzaga’s opening possession of the second half but the Zags had just one point in the next five minutes. Rubit, who had 23 second-half points, brought the Jaguars within nine and the margin pretty much stayed between 8 and 12 the rest of the way.
“We were just playing our basketball, being confident, moving the ball, setting ball screens,” Dower said of the first 10 minutes. “Then we started to shy away from that and they ended up making us pay for it. We were shooting too early in the shot clock or shooting shots we don’t normally take. They ended up getting closer and closer.”
Dranginis picked off an inbounds pass and went for a layup and Bell added a nice move in the lane to keep the Jaguars at bay.
Bell and Pangos both hit a pair of free throws in the final 80 seconds.
Percentages: FG .322, FT .737. 3-Point Goals: 7-17, .412 (Rubit 3-3, Saintil 2-3, Allen 2-6, Karazsia 0-1, Ammons 0-1, Williams 0-3). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 4 (Ammons 3, Ferguson). Turnovers: 15 (Stevens III 3, Rubit 2, Johnson 2, Allen 2, Ammons 2, Saintil 2, Williams, Ferguson). Steals: 3 (Rubit, Stevens III, Ammons).
Percentages: FG .406, FT .667. 3-Point Goals: 2-14, .143 (Pangos 1-6, Bell, Jr. 1-6, Dower 0-1, Dranginis 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 7 (Karnowski 3, Dower 2, Dranginis, Barham). Turnovers: 10 (Karnowski 6, Barham, Bell, Jr., Dower, Dranginis). Steals: 8 (Stockton 4, Dranginis 2, Pangos, Bell, Jr.).
Halftime—Gonzaga 41-25. A—9,140.