Gonzaga’s first two opponents offered little resistance and the games were essentially over before halftime.
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs encountered some adversity Sunday against short-handed Oakland but they relied on their experienced backcourt and another productive offensive performance to earn an 82-67 victory in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“That is a really tough, hard-nosed team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They pushed us and challenged us. Our guys responded and kept their composure and ended up getting it done.”
The Rochester, Mich.-based Golden Grizzlies, minus two key players suspended earlier in the week, slowed Gonzaga’s running game and played a funky zone defense that made the Zags work for their points.
Gonzaga (3-0) did just that, draining 11 3-pointers and making 55 percent of its field-goal attempts. The Bulldogs stung Oakland with dribble penetration and kick-outs to open shooters. Kevin Pangos made five 3-pointers and scored 21 points, and Gary Bell Jr. added 14 points and three assists. Inside, Sam Dower Jr. and Przemek Karnowski made 10 of 16 shots and 7 of 8 free throws.
“They slowed the game down, they pressed out so it made us walk the ball up and they didn’t let us get high-low passes that we like,” said Bell, who scored nine of his 14 points in the second half. “But we adapted pretty well.”
The Bulldogs dealt with Karnowski being in foul trouble for the second time in three games. The 7-foot-1 center picked up his second and third fouls early in the second half. He sat out the final 8 minutes after being whistled for his fourth foul. He still finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes.
Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis, typically called on when Karnowski or Dower go to the bench, were effective. Barham made three 3s. Dranginis added two points and five assists in 17 turnover-free minutes.
Pangos took a knee to the side of his head diving for a loose ball early in the second half. He remained prone on the court briefly, and then walked slowly to the bench. Bell couldn’t recall ever seeing Pangos shaken up in practice.
“At first it was a big blow,” Pangos said. “It hurt, but I feel fine now.”
Pangos returned 2:30 later, made three of his five 3-pointers and fed Karnowski for a dunk as Gonzaga slowly crafted a comfortable lead. Back-to-back 3s by Pangos and Barham put GU up 69-55 with 6:20 remaining.
“It was good that it wasn’t a 30- or 40-point win,” Pangos said. “Good team, really good shooters, some big, physical guys and they ran some good sets that made us think a lot.”
Oakland (0-4), led by Travis Bader’s five 3-pointers and 22 points and Tommie McCune’s 17 points, wouldn’t go away. The Grizzlies made 11 of 20 3s, identical to Gonzaga, and 49 percent from the field.
After getting blown out by North Carolina and UCLA, Oakland lost by four at Cal and pushed Gonzaga deep into the second half.
“We’ve had four guys injured and two that are suspended for a couple games,” coach Greg Kampe said. “In this building with what they do here, I couldn’t be more proud of the way we played. Of the four teams we’ve played, they’re probably the best. We’ve got Indiana and Michigan State coming up, I don’t know if I’ll be able to say that after those games.”
Gonzaga’s second-half offensive numbers: 63 percent from the field, 70 percent beyond the arc, 11 assists and four turnovers.
“They try to get you out of rhythm and do things that aren’t traditional,” Stockton said. “That was a good look for us to see. We feel good about (our offense) and how we’re shooting, but we obviously want to limit the turnovers. As the season goes, you get better dealing with that.”