If you missed the Gonzaga game Saturday night and only caught the score later, you might be surprised to learn it was a battle.
Or, as Richard Fox called it on the KHQ broadcast, “a fist fight.”
After all, the final score was 61-43 in Gonzaga’s favor, the Zags’ 10th win in as many games this season. Doesn’t sound all that tight.
But as play-by-play man Greg Heister, Fox and fellow analyst Dan Dickau pointed out, Akron (7-3) is a school that has won 21 or more games each of the past 11 years.
And the Zips, who already played at Creighton early this month, were not going to be intimidated by the Kennel crowd.
Now, the officials, that’s another story.
And the story behind the fist-fight nature of the contest.
Fox nailed it late in the game, one that featured two of the biggest post players in college hoops bumping into each other all night.
“This has been a physical game,” the former Gonzaga post said. “The officials have let a ton go on, to the benefit of both teams, I think.”
Akron coach Keith Dambrot didn’t seem to agree with the last part of that sentence, that’s for sure.
Fox’s comment came right after Dambrot had picked up a technical foul, the second on the Zips.
What had really drawn Dambrot’s ire was a non-call against Przemek Karnowski on a putback attempt by Jimond Ivey in a previous Akron possession.
The play was shown over and over, and Fox and Dickau agreed Karnowski had fouled Ivey. He had.
But what the replay didn’t show what happened a second earlier.
Jordan Mathews had gotten decent position and blocked out Ivey – something the Zags haven’t accomplished the last two games. But that didn’t stop Ivey from jumping into Mathews while going for, and corralling, the offensive rebound. That was also a clear foul on Ivey.
The trio of officials, veterans Gregory Nixon and Rick Batesell, along with Justin Shamion, had let such contact go much of the night, using the play-on attitude the NCAA has been trying to rein in this season.
The next time the Zips came down the court, Kwan Cheatham, Jr., made contact with GU’s Josh Perkins on a back pick at the left elbow.
Perkins went down and Shamion called a foul, Cheatham’s fifth. During the media timeout, Dambrot picked up his technical. It served as a bookend to the one 6-foot-10, 290-pound – the official weight seems a little light – Isaiah Johnson picked up with 9 minutes, 38 seconds left and Akron trailing just 42-40.
Johnson had elbowed Karnowski away from the basket and Nixon saw it. He assessed Akron’s leading scorer – he finished with 11 points – his third personal. And, when Johnson reacted verbally, Nixon reacted with a technical foul, Johnson’s fourth foul.
The big man had to sit, the Zags began what would end up being a 19-3 run to finish the game. As it stretched on, it was easy to see Dambrot was losing his temper a bit.
Up to that point, Akron was playing the game it wanted, something Fox and Dickau repeatedly pointed out. The pace was anything but zip-like, but it was what the Zips wanted.
And Dickau offered up a formula for changing it.
“When you keep Akron off the offensive glass,” he said with about 10 minutes left, “you can get out and run and play at the pace you want.”
At that point Akron had 18 offensive rebounds. The Zips only grabbed two more and none in the final eight minutes.
The Zags got out and ran, steadily pulled away and learned they can win a tough home game.
As Fox predicted.
“This is a good test for you at home in December,” he said before the game began. “Gonzaga is going to learn a lot about (itself) tonight.”
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