Gonzaga’s 0-2 road trip can be summed up in a few words.
Rebounding. Offense. Defense. Errant Shooting. Missed rotations. Sluggish second-half starts. Lack of free throws. Faulty crunch-time execution. Losing out on most 50-50 balls.
OK, it’s impossible to pinpoint one or two reasons why the Bulldogs lost against BYU and San Diego, which dropped Gonzaga out of the AP and USA Today rankings. It alternated between several facets. At times the offense was smooth, producing 19 points in the first 5:15 against San Diego. The last 14:45 of the half resulted in a point-per-minute pace.
Gonzaga was crushed by BYU on the offensive boards in the second half but won the glass against San Diego.
The defense, riddled early by BYU and San Diego, helped bring the Bulldogs back against the Cougars before Tyler Haws’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer shifted momentum.
The Toreros’ Christopher Anderson delivered a 3-pointer just before halftime and USD opened the second half on a 13-4 run. The Zags held San Diego to 40 percent shooting but sent the Toreros to the free-throw line 33 times.
In the personnel department, Sam Dower produced points in both games but had issues defending against BYU. Gary Bell Jr. struggled against the Cougars but scored 11 points in the first half versus San Diego. Przemek Karnowski, in foul trouble in both games, struck for 17 points against USD but had only eight points and one rebound versus BYU. David Stockton had five assists on Gonzaga’s first eight field goals Saturday but was 0 of 5 from the field before connecting twice in the final 20 seconds.
Kevin Pangos had a tough shooting weekend. He still generated 13 points and three assists against BYU but struggled mightily against San Diego. Gerard Coleman came up with four points in the first half against the Toreros, all sandwiched between missed defensive rotations that resulted in three San Diego dunks.
“Everybody wants to pick one entity,” coach Mark Few said. “For 5 minutes it’s this or that, but a lot of games go like that. Right now getting consistent play out of (player) A, B and C. …”
He finished the thought by shaking his head.
The Zags sputtered in the closing minutes in both losses. Four late turnovers proved costly against the Toreros. In the last 5 minutes against BYU, Gonzaga made just 1 of 8 shots.
“We weren’t converting,” Bell said. “We were getting too low in the shot clock and trying to hurry up and get something done.”
The last six games decided by single digits illustrate Gonzaga’s successes and failures in the final 5 minutes. In the loss to Memphis, Gonzaga had three turnovers, made 1 of 5 shots and didn’t attempt a free throw. In a 71-66 win over Portland, Gonzaga had no turnovers, made 3 of 3 shots (including two 3-pointers) and 9 of 10 free throws.
Gonzaga blew a 10-point lead against Santa Clara but Dower came through with game-winning 3-pointer. Gonzaga was just 2 of 6 from the field against San Diego but Pangos navigated down the lane for a clutch layup to help close out a 59-56 win.
Gonzaga has made 95 percent of its free throws but just 34.3 percent of its field-goal attempts in the final 5 minutes of those six games.
“Usually they’re going to let you play so you have to step up and make a tough play,” Few said, “whether that’s delivering the ball in the post where they can finish, or just making a hard, closely guarded basket or you have to make a tough enough play to get yourself to the foul line.”
Few has been talking with the guards “at length” about getting to the free-throw line, particularly by drawing contact and taking advantage of the rules emphasis on hand-checking and block/charge calls. GU shot a high number of 6-to-10 foot floaters Saturday.
“Seeing the film and how they were jumping before we were even going up to shoot, we could have gone in there, pump-faked, got into them and got to the (free-throw) line,” Bell said.
Gonzaga has been going to its bigs because it’s a favorable matchup.
“I’ve talked to (Dower) that we have to find him even if it’s a broken play or another option doesn’t work,” Few said. “They have to look for him more, but he has to put himself in a position where they can get him the ball, too.”