Gonzaga’s two-game series with Butler came to a stunning conclusion Saturday night in Indianapolis. Each team won on their home court, GU 71-55 last season at the McCarthey Athletic Center and Butler 64-63 on a last-second steal and basket at packed Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Any chance of future matchups?
“It is a fun series,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “This league stuff has everybody kind of on hold right now. As much as I think we’d both love to continue with it, nobody knows how many nonleague games anybody is going to have (next year). We certainly have a bunch of contracts already signed.
“If you look at our home-and-home (series), for the most part we want national-caliber NCAA tournament teams. That’s what we’ve tried to do.”
Butler and Xavier are thought to be high on the list to join the Big East Catholic 7’s new conference. Gonzaga has been mentioned as a possibility. The WCC will expand to 10 teams next season with the addition of Pacific, which eliminates two games from GU’s nonconference schedule.
Few and Butler counterpart Brad Stevens visited by phone Sunday. The mutual respect between the two coaches extends to their players.
“There was a lot of strategizing and adjusting on the fly, flipping sets, tinkering with them a little to throw the other team off,” Few said. “It was a lot of fun to be involved in because of all the little things going on as well as the big things, the environment (at Hinkle) and with (ESPN) College GameDay there.
“If you go back and look, watch how each team is helping each other up, the amount of respect from guy to guy you don’t often see that.”
Stevens watched Roosevelt Jones’ game-winning shot disappear in the net without a trace of emotion and he walked toward GU’s bench to shake Few’s hand.
“He’s a very grounded, balanced person who would never say or do anything that would be considered poor sportsmanship,” Few said.
Bell stays positive
Sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr.’s numbers have dropped off in recent weeks. He’s made just 10 of 35 shots (28.6 percent), including 5 of 19 3-pointers (26.3 percent) while averaging 5.2 points in Gonzaga’s last six games. That comes after five consecutive double-digit scoring games versus WSU, Illinois, Kansas State, Campbell and Baylor. His scoring average has slipped from 10.6 points per game to 8.8.
Bell said he’s healthy and his shot feels fine.
“I just have to play my game and get out of it the best I can,” said Bell, who connected on one of GU’s biggest baskets of the season, a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left in a 69-68 victory over Oklahoma State. “I need to shoot my shots when I’m open and just play through the team. I just have to stay more aggressive.”
Bell attempted only one shot attempt Saturday, but Butler was determined to limit opportunities for the guards, Few said.
“We have maybe a more balanced team than we’ve ever had and because our bigs have been so effective a lot of stuff is running through them,” Few said. “Butler was just not going to let Gary or Kevin (Pangos) get going. We facilitated everything through the bigs and they did a great job. What’s so special about this team is we can do that. If they want to take away our bigs – Portland did a little of that – we were able to find some 3s against their zone.
“We need to work to find (Bell) more shots. He needs to continue to work as part of his player development on getting shots off the bounce and being able to get a shot on his own.”