Raise your hand if you expected Gonzaga to be 6-1 at this point. I'm typing so I can't, but I would have guessed 5-2. It's a razor-thin margin between Gonzaga possibly being 7-0 (and probably in the top 10) or 4-3.
Onward. I should have put the day-after post together last night, but I watched the GU-WSU replay until the wee hours. Read on.
--We’ll begin with the trio of players (Matt Bouldin, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk) that played the largest roles in Gonzaga’s comeback. OK, four, because Steven Gray’s defense on Klay Thompson was a major factor throughout.
Bouldin/Harris/Olynyk combined for 43 of Gonzaga’s 47 second-half points. Rob Sacre had a dunk with 15:10 left and Gray scored on a breakaway layup with four seconds left. Every other point was produced by the trio.
“Especially when they’re packing it in like they usually do, it leaves a lot of open shots,” Bouldin said. “I was just trying to hunt shots, especially when we down, I knew we needed to make buckets. And ‘E’ (Harris) was killing on the inside.”
--We mentioned in the game story that GU went to a four-freshmen-and-Bouldin lineup late in the second half. Olynyk finished with 10 points and seven boards. Grant Gibbs had a rebound and two assists. Manny Arop blocked one of Thompson’s shots. And Harris racked up 24 points and 12 rebounds for Gonzaga’s first double-double of the season.
“We don’t really see ourselves as four freshmen and Bouldin. We see ourselves as a team and anytime we’re out there we feel like we can make progress toward coming back or pushing the lead forward,” Olynyk said. “It’s great for us to be able to do that, great for the team to show that we have that capability.”
Said Bouldin: “Manny got some big stops on Klay. Kelly was a study and so was Grant. They came in firing, no fear.”
--GU has won 9 of the last 11 meetings, including the last two after WSU won the previous two. The Bulldogs have outscored WSU 89-53 in the second half of the last two games.
--With Sacre struggling and looking tentative on the low block, Gonzaga turned to Harris, who has been effective posting up, but also with a dribble or two from the 15-foot wing area. On one play early in the second half, WSU sent a double team at Harris, who wheeled away from both defenders with a drive to the middle for a two-handed dunk.
Harris took nine shots and seven free throws in the second half.
“It was time to go to our main man,” Few said.
--Sacre had a couple of turnovers trying to pass while dealing with WSU’s double teams. He played 20 minutes and was limited to six points and two boards. He scored Gonzaga’s first four points in the first 3 minutes.
“We prepared for double teams all week, but live he didn’t handle it very well,” Few said. “He’s young, and he needs to work on it. It’s probably teams’ only hope for stopping him. He’ll figure it out. It took Ronny (Turiaf) a game or two to figure it out.”
--Gonzaga was outboarded by 11 in the first half. WSU held a 12-5 edge in offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs nearly caught up by game’s end (WSU 36-35).
“We were just getting crushed and part of it was we were shading toward Klay a lot and part of it was a lack of effort and toughness,” Few said. “We weren’t even moving to the ball at times. They were getting multiple jumps and we’d be standing there on the ground. Elias really changed that.”
--GU finished with 19 turnovers, many were unforced. Sacre had five, Gray had six. Eight different Zags had at least one.
A couple of second-half plays symbolized the first 30 minutes of the game. On the first, Bouldin swatted Nikola Koprivica and then Koprivica had the ball stolen before he could get another attempt up. Gonzaga broke out and had a player running free in the lane, but Gray’s pass was swiped by Thompson, leading to a Marcus Capers’ layup. On the other, Gray’s pass inside was intercepted. The Cougars raced down court, but Thompson missed from 5 feet. WSU’s DeAngelo Casto was there for the putback. Those plays reflected Gonzaga’s offensive struggles and WSU’s domination at both ends of the court, not to mention the boards.
But GU turned it around in the final 10 minutes. WSU scored 11 points in the final 10:30, five in the last 28 seconds. Thompson tried to take over, but most of his shots were contested.
“You have to fly around, you have to play harder than the guy across from you,” Few said. “We started doing that in the second half; we just had some bonehead turnovers. Some very uncharacteristic plays by some of our guys.”
--Gonzaga played extended minutes without Demetri Goodson and G.J. Vilarino on the floor. Goodson played 23 minutes and Vilarino just six. They were a combined 1 of 5 from the floor and 0 of 4 at the foul line. Grant Gibbs took their spot, logging nine minutes.
--Gonzaga went nearly seven minutes between field goals in the first half. Other numbers of note: WSU 12 of 20 at the line (Thompson 3 of 7). GU made 21 of its last 25. WSU had two second-half assists. The teams combined for 23 steals. Bouldin played all 40 minutes; Thompson 39.
Few: “That was a courageous win by our guys. Obviously it was a tale of two halves. The Cougs came out and beat us to every 50-50 ball, even 70-30 balls that were kind of ours they took from us. Late in the second half we were able to turn that around, made some great hustle plays and finally got settled down on defense and got some stops. We just took care of the basketball better and made simple plays.”
Olynyk: “We made a bunch of mistakes early and we just had to fight through it. Down the stretch, we made things happen.”
Gray: “You have to give those other (WSU players) all the credit in the world. Coming in, I bet a lot of people thought if you stop Klay their team might struggle, but those guys stepped up and played great. That has to be a great sign for them.”
Gray (on whether his focus on the defensive end impacted his play offensively): “Apparently, it looks that way. My mind set wasn’t so much on the offense, (it was) this is my assignment for the game, make things difficult for (Thompson).”
Bouldin (on GU trailing by double digits in the second half in three of their last four games): “I’m tired of this (laughing). It shows we’re pretty gritty, we’re pretty tough. Things aren’t always going our way, but as long as we overcome them. This isn’t our first time doing that. I guess it shows we know how to win.”
Bouldin (on Gray): "Steven was our defensive MVP. I don’t think Klay got an open look all night. That’s probably the reason we won that game. We didn’t rebound nearly as well as we have been, but Steven’s defense on Klay was unbelievable.”