SAN DIEGO – A year ago during the NCAA tournament, Gary Bell Jr. was battling several nagging injuries, including severe pain near the top of his foot that would later be diagnosed as a stress fracture.
He went scoreless in the loss to Wichita State and barely played in the second half.
On Friday, the junior guard made a healthy contribution to Gonzaga’s 85-77 victory over Oklahoma State at Viejas Arena, scoring 17 points, pulling down four rebounds and sharing defensive duties with Kyle Dranginis on NBA-bound point guard Marcus Smart.
“It feels good,” Bell said. “We just came out and played hard. We were tough and we got the win.”
Bell’s toughness was tested again. He came up limping after tweaking his ankle after making a layup early in the second half. He left the game for 2 minutes before returning.
When the Cowboys closed within 53-50, Gonzaga coach Mark Few called timeout and drew up a new play designed to get Bell free for a 3-pointer.
“I kind of figured I’d be open,” said Bell, who was 3 of 4 from long distance. “Once we came off one screen and then another one, the (defender) wasn’t expecting it. I was thinking, ‘shot, shot, shot,’ even before I got the ball.”
GU’s coaching staff likes it when Bell thinks that way. He’s a 43 percent shooter on 3-pointers and makes 80 percent at the free-throw line.
“I was just playing aggressive,” Bell said. “I was open, Coach wants me to take those shots and I need to take those shots for this team to be good.”
Bell dug out a steal from Smart with just over a minute remaining, which led to a pair of free throws by Pangos and a congratulatory hug from Few during a break in the action.
“I’ve been on him his whole career about going and getting the ball, getting those 50-50 balls, and the one just prior to that Kevin and Gary were fiddling around with it,” Few said. “That last one he went up and battled and got it. That’s what we’ve been talking about the last two years.”
Dranginis played 3 minutes and had three turnovers in GU’s 69-68 win over the Cowboys last year in Stillwater, Okla. In Friday’s victory, the sophomore guard logged 29 minutes and finished with 12 points, two rebounds and a steal.
Dranginis, a 53 percent free-throw shooter, made 7 of 8 at the line, including six straight in the closing minutes as the Bulldogs closed out the victory.
“Last year I was definitely not prepared for all that,” Dranginis said. “I was a little shell-shocked. This year I kind of wanted to make up for that. I wanted to be aggressive from the start, and usually the team that’s more aggressive can carry that throughout the game.”
Dranginis hit a 3-pointer on a kick-out pass from Przemek Karnowski, who was being double-teamed. Dranginis helped GU handle Oklahoma State’s press and was active on the glass.
“I thought he was a real problem-solver for us,” Few said. “It was a little scary when he fouled out (with 1:25 remaining) because he was doing so much.”
Karnowski was a force inside, despite a couple of stretches on the bench in foul trouble. The 7-foot-1 sophomore center had 15 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.
“We knew before it was going to physical, especially the way they were going hard to the boards,” Karnowski said. He said of his second foul: “I just forgot to push the guy out and he just jumped over me and I got that stupid foul near the end of the half.
“I just had to stay in the game and refocus for the second half.”
Karnowski made 6 of 9 field-goal attempts.
“He’s a load down there,” said forward Sam Dower Jr., who had an off night offensively with three points, but he contributed nine rebounds and four assists. “I was looking for him as much as I could in the high-low and he was producing. We’re going to need that Sunday (against Arizona).”
Le’Bryan Nash and Kamari Murphy, OSU’s starting interior players, were 6 of 16 from the field and combined for just 14 points, six below their average.
“They defended very well around the rim,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said.