Day after Illinois

GU’s Kelly Olynyk draws foul on UI’s Myke Henry. (Dan Pelle)

Probably should have renamed this one the day-after Brandon Paul post. Or Paul Brandon, as he was referred to(not by me!) a couple years ago in a previous GU-Illinois matchup. Interesting night at the Kennel as the Illinois guards got the better of Gonzaga's and the Zags probably didn't exploit their interior advantage as much as they would have liked, particularly in the second half.

The result: Illinois remained unbeaten with an 85-74 victory over previously unbeaten Gonzaga.

Here are the links: My game story, Dan Pelle's photos (the first one tells part of the story), A.P.Chicago Tribune, IllinoisHQ.com and more here, and CBSsports.com,

Read on for more.


—I watched the replay last night and several parts again this morning with two topics in mind: How did Paul torch Gonzaga’s defense and how did the Zags commit so many first-half turnovers?

GU opened in zone, trapping as soon as Illinois crossed the mid-court line, and stuck with it for a good 8-9 minutes. Not sure I’ve ever seen that from a Mark Few-coached team. It worked for a while as Illinois made just 1 of 5 3s early, but the Illini eventually figured it out and the Zags switched to man-to-man.

That’s when Paul truly really heated up. He went to work on several GU defenders, primarily Gary Bell Jr. but also when guarded by Mike Hart, Kevin Pangos, Guy Landry Edi, David Stockton and Kyle Dranginis. With 8 minutes left in the first half, he buried a 3 over Stockton. The next time down, Stockton left his feet and sailed by and Paul tried to draw a foul on Kelly Olynyk, taking an off-balance 20-footer. He didn’t get the foul, but he banked home the shot anyway.

When Dranginis entered for his brief stint, Paul took him off the bounce and, when the freshman was off balance, forced contact to draw the foul. When defended by Pangos, Paul did roughly the same thing, taking the smaller guard off the dribble and drawing another foul.

Gonzaga tried switching on screens and on one play that left Olynyk on the perimeter, facing Paul, who was whistled for a ball-handling (carrying) turnover. Later in the game, though, Paul drove past Olynyk for a layup. He also drove on Elias Harris, drawing a foul, despite Przemek Karnowski arriving in help defense.

Paul did damage with his five 3s, but the majority of GU’s problem was it simply couldn’t contain him – or Tracy Abrams, for that matter – off the dribble. Paul (and Abrams, to a lesser degree) was athletic enough to finish at the rim (even against bigs), draw the foul, or kick it out to shooters (Paul three assists, Abrams five).

“He’s definitely going to be an NBA player,” Hart said. “He has everything you need: athletic ability, skill, a really great stroke and he showed it all tonight.

“It broke down to us getting broken down off the dribble and then (Illinois) really spreading us out. We didn’t keep the ball in front of us as well as we should have. And then with way they shoot it, you need to be in your help spots and your position needs to be fantastic. Otherwise they’re either going to penetrate all the way to the hoop or (pass it out) for 3s.”

That’s the book on Illinois and all of this was stressed in the game plan. Gonzaga simply couldn’t contain Paul’s penetration.

—As for the turnovers, it was a mixed bag, but much of it was the result of Illinois’ length and, especially, its quick hands. Twice, the Illini poked the ball away from Elias Harris after he’d received a pass near the free-throw line and twice they picked the ball from Guy Landry Edi on ill-fated drives into traffic. Twice, Kelly Olynyk was whistled for three-in-the key (not a big fan of that call when the offender is running away from the hoop and exiting the lane). There was an occasional poor post feed and ball-handling violation, but more often it was the quick hands of Paul (three steals) and Abrams (two).

Gonzaga made everything it looked at for most of the first half, but 12 turnovers prevented GU from building a 10-12 lead at intermission. Instead, it was tied and there was a feeling Illinois, which was shooting in the 30-percentage range for most of the first 20 minutes, had taken Gonzaga’s best shot.

“Turnovers hurt us in the first half,” Few said. “I thought we did a good job of taking care of the ball (in the second half). In the first half we were pretty amped up, making some crazy plays. Illinois is a long and athletic team, especially at the guard spot. It can cause you to do that.”

Sixteen of Illinois’ first-half points came off GU turnovers.

—It’s been an interesting stretch for Pangos, who was just 2 of 12 from the field vs. WSU, but hit the game-winner with 2.2 seconds left. He was just 3 of 11 vs. Illinois, one of those was a 3-pointer that was goal-tended. His FG percentage has dropped to 37.4 and his 3-point percentage has slipped to 36.5.

“We got a good win at Washington State and a tough loss here,” Pangos said. “It’s two games we can really learn from because we didn’t play our best.

And personally?

“I didn’t shoot the ball well in two games,” Pangos said. “I’ll just get some rest and get back in the gym. As I said after WSU, it’s not the first time that’s happened. I wanted to do more to help my teammates because it’s about the team in the end.”

Bell also had an off shooting night (3 of 9 FGs, 1 of 6 3s). Most of his 3s were clean looks. Gonzaga was just 5 of 18 from long distance.

 

STATS OF NOTE

—Of GU’s 16 turnovers, 13 were committed by forwards/posts (Olynyk 6, Harris 3, Edi 3, Dower 1). Olynyk has played extremely well, but he also leads GU in turnovers per game (2.71) by a large margin. Stockton is next at 2.0.

—Dower, still bothered by the flu, was limited to three minutes. His energy was clearly drained after fighting the bug for five days.

—Harris has scored in double figures in all nine games he’s played. His lowest output is 11 points.

—Three-point shooting by GU’s opponents last four games: LCSC 8 of 22, 36.4%; Pacific 10 of 19, 52.6%; WSU 10 of 27, 37%; Illinois 11 of 26, 42.3%.

—Four of GU’s five starters logged at least 33 minutes. Pangos played a team-high 35 minutes and didn’t commit a turnover.

—Karnowski was active in his nine minutes, finishing with nine points, two boards, an assist and a blocked shot.

—GU had a good day at the FT line, making 21 of 27 (77.8 percent) after making just 53 percent against WSU. Bell was 5 of 5 last night, but he’s attempted just 11 free throws in nine games.

—If my math is correct, only 14 unbeatens remain.

QUOTEBOOK

Illinois coach John Groce on Paul: “He makes big-time plays in an environment like this. He is a big-time player. I said that after the Maui tournament and of course we need to be humble and keep working to get better. I really felt at the Maui tournament that he is one of the best players in the country, one of the best guards in the country. He played like it today.”

Few: “It’s a long season. It’s the first week of December and we have got to get better. We have to take any game we play, whether it’s the one in Pullman or (Illinois) here, and break down the film. We have a week now and we have to work on getting better. The teams that get better from now to the end of the year are the ones that move on. You are not going to win anything the first week in December.”

Groce: “I learned and reconfirmed what I knew about them and that is that we are pretty resilient. This is the second time that we have been in this situation at the start of a game where we have gotten knocked in the mouth, I mean popped in the mouth big time. Hawaii was the same deal. Today was the same deal. We got down 16 twice in the Hawaii game and came back. This game we get popped pretty early and I thought we were just really poised.”

Groce, on changing strategies: “More belief in what we were doing. We didn’t change a whole lot, other than we started to play a little more. We mixed in some zone. They got it high-low a couple of times against the zone there, but you have to pick your poison with them.”

Pangos on Paul: “He’s smooth, he has some good moves, he can shoot the 3 from deep as well as attack the rim. He’s a hard cover because he can do a bunch of different things. … He hit some pretty big shots, but it’s also tough to focus on one guy when they have a lot of great shooters out there.”

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