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Day after WSU

Good morning. Let's start with the links from WSU's 81-59 humbling of Gonzaga: S-R gamer, Blanchette column, S-R photos. Here's a day after post from WSU beat writer Vince Grippi.

Read on for my day after post.

--Not quite sure where to start, but we’ll begin at the beginning – of the second half, that is.


Gonzaga spent the last 7 minutes of the first half, in particular the last 5, trimming a 19-point deficit to six at the break. Game on, it appeared. But on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the second half, Steven Gray lobs a pass over the back line of WSU’s zone defense to center Rob Sacre, who misses a dunk. Sacre gets the ball back and is promptly stripped by Abe Lodwick.


Klay Thompson drives and scores at the other end, WSU 32-24. Gray is open from 22 feet, but his shot is long and Elias Harris picks up his third foul on the rebound. Lodwick buries a 3 on a pick-and-pop, a recurring issue for GU’s defense this season.


WSU 35-24, timeout Gonzaga.


GU turns it over with Gray trying to feed inside to Sacre, but Brock Motum pokes the ball away. Reggie Moore entices a foul from David Stockton on a pull-up jumper. Moore makes 1 of 2 free throws and it’s a 12-point lead. Sacre’s lob pass to Harris is underthrown as GU commits another unforced turnover.


A few minutes later, after a couple more turnovers, WSU leads 44-28 and the rout is on.


“We dug ourselves a hole and used lot of energy to come back,” Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk said. “And then we basically tripped and fell back in.”


It was an ugly stretch for Gonzaga in a game filled with them. WSU scored the first eight points, GU missed its first 10 shots and trailed 25-6 with the game barely 12 minutes old. In the second half, Gonzaga trailed by as many as 29.


“We should have gotten stops when they were going on their runs,” Sacre said. “We obviously knew what got us back in the game was defense, but we didn’t capitalize on what was bringing us back. They played good, but we didn’t play the way we should have played. We just didn’t respond.”


As Gray acknowledged later, WSU came up with most of the momentum-building plays – loose balls, blocked shots, hustle plays – and made Gonzaga pay.


“Those are the plays -- the loose balls or we’d play good defense and give up an offensive rebound -- we have to come up with in order for us to take a step forward,” Gray said.


--At the outset of the game, Gonzaga couldn’t have been colder and looked to have stage fright. The Zags were tentative against WSU’s zone, settling for jumpers and rarely trying to penetrate. When GU did pass it inside, Sacre was called for a charge and WSU collapsed on the Zags’ center, forcing a jump ball on one occasion.


Gray made Gonzaga’s first points with a 3 with 12:41 left. Olynyk scored in transition a few minutes later, but the Zags’ third field goal didn’t’ come until Sam Dower made an elbow jumper with 7 minutes remaining.


“From the get-go, everyone just sort of wasn’t on the same page,” Gray said. “There was a real big disconnect.”


Often operating against a zone (and not a trapping, high-pressure zone), the Zags committed 25 turnovers. GU committed a wide variety of turnovers and, Few added, “Ones I’d never seen before. Just guys making negative plays, not making positive plays. … We’ve faced and attacked zone very well all year. We didn’t tonight.”


Operating against a zone (not a trapping, high-pressure zone), the Zags committed 25 turnovers. 


The Bulldogs got some production off the bench. In fact, I jotted down a note when I was packing up my computer for the long walk from the upper concourse to the media room, that GU’s leading scorers with roughly 4 minutes left in the game were Dower and Stockton (each with 8). In fact, Dower went on to be the only Zag in double figures with 11 points.


The starting five of Arop, Harris, Sacre, Goodson and Gray combined for 23 points on 8 of 24 shooting (1 of 8 3s).


“I felt like nothing was clicking,” Olynyk said. “They jumped on us a bit, we knew they were going to come out strong. It’s almost unexplainable. I’ve never seen that from us before. Guys missed shots early, I don’t know if that deterred some people and got us thinking, but we didn’t really respond well.


“I’m not sure what’s happening, if we’re not looking for shots or executing right. I just think we need to settle down and play basketball. We’ve all played since we were little kids. We need to clear our minds and play the game we love playing.”


--Gonzaga struggled offensively, and it didn’t fare much better at the defensive end. WSU rang up 51 second-half points, making 19 of 28 shots (68 percent) in the process. According to the second-half shot chart, 12 of those buckets were layups (might have been a dunk or two) to go with a 5-of-10 effort on 3s.


Afterward Few was asked about Gonzaga’s issues defending the 3. He responded: “Guarding anybody tonight was more of an issue.” He went on to mention WSU making a bunch of layins to fuel its huge run to open the second half.


Cougars forward Klay Thompson carved up Gonzaga’s defense in the second half, scoring 21 of his 24 points. Bottled up by Gray in the first half, Thompson used a pump-fake to get Harris on his toes, then drove for a 6-foot bank shot over the Zags’ forward on WSU’s first possession of the second half.


Thompson took Gray inside with a drive down the baseline and another drive that he concluded with a nice left-handed finish from 4 feet. After Stockton made his second 3, Moore brought the ball down the right wing and flipped it to Thompson, who swished a 23-footer with Gray a couple paces away.


Later, Thompson rejected Sacre as the 7-footer rose to attempt a dunk. WSU raced down court, but Gonzaga poked the ball loose from Capers. With a couple of Zags in the area, Capers made a diving save and pass to Moore, who pitched it to the trailing Thompson at the top of the key. He drained a 3 with Manny Arop in his face.


“He’s definitely added some things to his game, on top of being able to read screens,” Gray said. “It just makes him a tough guard. You have to try to get up in him and try to contain him as best as you can.”




--WSU connected on 11 of 21 3s. That’s the fourth team (K-State, Illinois and Southern) to make double-digit 3s against Gonzaga.


--Points off turnovers: WSU 24-9. The Cougars only had 10 turnovers, GU 25.


--Gray had seven assists, but six turnovers. In the last two games, Gray is 5 of 22 from the field, 2 of 10 on 3s.


--WSU had 14 steals, led by Thompson’s 7.


--Another quiet night for Harris, who had one field goal in the first half and two in a 35-second span of the second half when Gonzaga was down 70-43.


--Gonzaga grabbed 12 offensive rebounds but converted them into just three second-chance points.


--Last time Gonzaga was 4-4 was 1997, under Dan Fitzgerald. That team finished 15-12.


--Under Few, Gonzaga was 5-4 and 6-5 in 2001. Gonzaga started out 5-1, but lost three straight (to Boise State, Florida and Wisconsin-Green Bay). The Zags beat Monmouth then lost in overtime to New Mexico to go 6-5. Gonzaga won its next 14 and eventually lost to Michigan State in the Sweet 16.


In 2007, GU was 8-1 before losing to WSU 77-67. After beating UW, Gonzaga dropped four straight (Georgia, Duke, Nevada and Virginia) and was 9-6 entering WCC play. That squad went 23-11, losing its NCAA opener to Indiana.




GRAY on if the loss was the toughest of his career: “It’s up there, it’s definitely up there.”


FEW: “We got it handed to us. They were the aggressors from the tip, on offense and defense.”


FEW on the defense: “I mean at times, especially in that stretch in the second part of the first half we were doing what we were supposed to be doing, and maybe at the start of the game we defended decently well. But we definitely lost sight of that in the second half.”


OLYNYK on WSU: “They’re just way more experienced (than last year). They have a lot of firepower and they have a bunch of guys at the ‘4’ spot that are making shots. The J.C. transfer (Aden) is really playing well for them. They’re a good team. They played really well, they made shots and they had energy. We couldn’t respond and match their play.”


SACRE on WSU: “It’s a lot faster than what it was in the past (under ex-coaches Dick and Tony Bennett), that’s (because of) Coach Bone. He’s a good coach, he knows his Xs and Os. He recruited me (when he was an assistant at Washington). We just have to find a way to respond.”


SACRE on THOMPSON: “When he gets it going, the hoop is very big for him. We should have seen what was going on and we should have come as a team and not let him ‘iso’ one of our guys. We should have figured it out as a team.”


Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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Looking for a Grip on Sports?

Vince Grippi's daily take on all things regional sports has been moved to our main sports section online. You can find a collection of these columns here.