For roughly two months, Kevin Pangos hasn’t been able to do what comes naturally to him on the basketball court.
Gonzaga’s junior guard can’t practice as much as he would like. He can’t move the way he moved in November.
Pangos has been slowed by turf toe since early December. He’s had several setbacks – versus South Alabama, a late December contest with Santa Clara, and another in practice prior to the Feb. 1 San Francisco game – but his right big toe is feeling pretty good these days. He estimates it’s in the 90-percent range.
The latest concern is his left ankle. He initially sprained it at West Virginia, but he buried three 3-pointers in a 13-0 run that led to an 80-76 win. He rolled it again after stepping on teammate Przemek Karnowski’s foot in the first minute against USF. His ankle was mending, until he stepped backward after completing a move in practice five days ago and landed on a teammate’s foot. His ankle is roughly at 70-75 percent.
“Just unlikely stuff,” Pangos said.
Pangos’ scoring average, a robust 22 points per game after torching Arkansas for 34 in Maui, has slipped to 15. Even with a recent shooting slump – 11 of 39 on 3-pointers in the last six games – he’s still at 42 percent for the season. Four of his five single-digit games have come since Jan. 18, but he also hit an acrobatic layup late in a two-point win over San Diego, poured in 24 points against BYU and connected on a big 3 with 96 seconds remaining against Portland.
He will mention the word frustration, but excuses are not in his vocabulary.
“The most frustrating part is I do whatever I can to try to prevent this stuff, and when it happens I’m not happy about it,” Pangos said. “It also prevents me from getting in the gym. Having to rest is like torture to me. I haven’t felt in the same rhythm.”
Pain is a frequent visitor. Sudden stops and starts can deliver jolts of pain.
“I battled with (ankle, other nagging injuries) all last year so I know exactly where he’s coming from,” guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “He has to play for us to be competitive. He’s fighting through like a champ.”
Asked if he regrets not taking a couple of weeks off in December to try to heal his toe, Pangos responds quickly.
“Never, never,” he said. “Even if I’m not performing my best, scoring or play-making wise, I love being on the court with my teammates, being able to organize the guys or talking them through things, as long as I can bring something.
“And we have won almost all of the games.”
GU is 14-3 since the injury bug hit Pangos.
“He just needs to get back to making his reads, getting his feet set, making simple plays,” coach Mark Few said. “We probably need to back away from some of his drives, but he stuck his nose in there on some incredible rebounds (against Memphis). Those weren’t the ones that fell to him, he went up and got them.”
Pangos and Few envision a healthier finish.
“I think he’s looking toward the day when he can feel good again,” Few said. “We’re hoping that’s in a week or so.”
Reaching out to Smart
Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart was suspended for three games after shoving a Texas Tech fan who made a derogatory comment. Few coached Smart as an assistant on the U.S. team that captured gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Tournament in Brazil in the summer of 2012.
“I’ve been trying to reach out to him,” Few said. “The big thing for me is this is just one brief moment where he didn’t have control and there have been thousands and thousands of moments where he did.
“It’s not who he is. He knows he made a mistake, but he’s a very high character guy, a great competitor and he hates to lose.”
Gonzaga’s loss to Memphis dropped the Bulldogs out of the Associated Press Top 25. They’re second in the “others receiving votes” category.
The Bulldogs (21-4) slipped four spots in the USA Today rankings to No. 24.