When a Gonzaga game is on ESPNU and the broadcast team is Eric Rothman and Adrian Branch, you can depend on a few things.
Rothman’s play-by-play will be solid, informative and never over-the-top.
Branch’s analysis will, at times, make you do a double-take, but most of the time will, if you pay attention, teach a lesson.
And the network will show you, on a really neat-looking globe, from which countries the Zags’ foreign contingent left for Spokane.
All of that occurred Saturday night – and more.
The more would be the game, the tightest Gonzaga has played in the West Coast Conference this season.
Oh, and one other thing that usually happens, happened. The 15th-ranked Bulldogs won, 75-65 over the University of San Francisco in the Dons’ venerable War Memorial gym.
What they saw …
Rothman laid out early the only way the Dons (10-9, 2-4 WCC) could stay with the conference-leading Zags, emphasizing the 3-point line, patience and ball-security. Some announcers would never stray from that emphasis, but Rothman noticed an early trend and shifted gears quickly.
Late in the first half, the Dons missed seven consecutive free throws. When the streak was over, they trailed by that many. And Rothman predicted they would rue the failures at the line.
They did, finishing 9 of 19 from the line in a game they trailed by six with 1 minute, 43 seconds left.
That comeback was fueled by – you guessed it – 3-pointers, patience and taking care of the ball. And the comeback failed in some part because of two ill-advised turnovers by freshman Souley Boum, who led all scorers with 22 points.
The first came with 5:11 remaining and led to a Silas Melson dunk, giving Gonzaga what turned out to be an insurmountable 67-54 lead. When Boum jogged back on defense, it also allowed Branch to make a point.
“I would be upset with Boum,” Branch said as USF coach Kyle Smith called timeout. “He didn’t hustle back as fast as he (can). He was in a home run trot.
“It’s one thing to turn it over, it’s another thing, you’ve got to hustle back. That’s a poor effort.”
And, as the clock ran down, Boum threw another right-to-a-Zag pass, leading to a Melson runout and subsequent free throws.
“Heartbreaking,” Branch said, “flat-out heartbreaking. What a heartbreaking turnover.”
Well, for the Dons. For Zags fans, having dealt with a game that featured some interesting whistles and an in-and-out ESPNU feed, another word might come to mind.
What we saw …
Branch, the former Maryland star who also had a long NBA career, continually mentioned the Zags’ dominance inside. With Johnathan Williams (nine rebounds after hardly playing Thursday after banging knees) and Rui Hachimura (eight boards) dominating the glass, GU had a 42-26 advantage.
But, as Rothman mentioned early, the 3-point shot is an equalizer. The Dons took 28 of them, making 12, many in the late second-half surge.
Another equalizer is inconsistent officiating and there certainly was that. The trio of Klaus Endrissat, Horace Shields and Ron Brokenbrough seemed to struggle with the tempo of the game, at times calling it overly tight and at others letting way-too-physical play go.
Neither team seemed able to figure out how much contact would draw a whistle or what constituted a travel. But in the end the teams shot nearly the same amount of free throws (USF had a 19-17 edge), although Gonzaga did a better job of converting its chances (making 12).
And the map detailing the Zags’ worldwide recruiting? It made its usual appearance with 5:48 left in the first half.
Its consecutive-ESPN-network-game streak is matched only by the number of times Saturday’s viewers were subjected to the commercial with the poor guy in the hospital dealing with a phone in his stomach.
Now that’s something we wish was less dependable.