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Day after Xavier

I have one more present to buy, so we'll move quickly through the day-after Xavier post. Those 8 p.m. starts really limit post-game interviews but we checked in with Gray, Sacre, Harris and Few.

First, the links: S-R game story, S-R photos and Cincinnati Enquirer gamer. (Note:One fix to my gamer: Halftime score was 34-23, not 34-26.)

Read on.

--Robert Sacre logged 34 minutes and Elias Harris 33. Both were effective, which limited the minutes for Kelly Olynyk (10) and Sam Dower (2). The two subs, though, contributed six points and Olynyk had five boards in their limited time.

Sacre has been solid most of the year, but he’s shown noticeable improvement the last 2-3 weeks. He’s strung together games of 16 points vs. Notre Dame, 13 in limited time vs. LCSC, 17 vs. Baylor and 22 vs. Xavier (one short of his career high). He had a nice baseline post move that I don’t remember him showing before. He’s attempting several jump hooks each game and has been particularly deadly with his left hand. And he’s making free throws at an 83.1 percent clip.

“Rob and ‘E’ really brought it,” coach Mark Few said. “Their bigs had been scoring well and have been quite a force.”

Sacre completely dominated 7-foot Kenny Frease, who was averaging 11.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. Frease played 18 minutes and had zero rebounds, points, assists, blocks and steals. He had four fouls and missed all three of his shot attempts.

“Going inside, that’s our game plan,” Sacre said. “Go inside and be physical. I think we’re doing a good job with that. And we’re finally finding our roles a little bit, that’s the best part.”

Added Xavier coach Chris Mack: “They’re a big physical team in there. They’re nasty ... You talk about fighting against Sacre, he’s enormous” (talking about his backups dealing with Rob after starters were in foul trouble).”

--Xavier’s offense essentially boiled down to whatever GU’s turnovers and guard Tu Holloway provided. The 6-0 senior guard scored 26 points, including 16 of the team’s 23 in the first half. True to his form in Xavier’s previous nine games, Holloway got to the foul line. He had 93 free throws in nine previous games. He was 13 of 14 at the stripe last night.

He made six field goals, a couple in the final 2:34 after the issue was pretty much decided. He was 6 of 16 from the field and just 1 of 5 on 3s. The Musketeers had few offensive options other than Holloway. Dante Jackson scored nine points, but was just 3 of 11. Mark Lyons scored eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. Andrew Taylor accounted for all five of Xavier’s bench points.

--Mentioned this in the game story, but I’ll re-visit here. Mathis Keita and David Stockton contributed big-time when Goodson and Carter were in foul trouble.

Keita had two steals (would have been three if official didn’t get in the way on the sideline) and alertly fetched his own missed 3-pointer when Gonzaga was working the shot clock late in the second half. As mentioned in the game story, Keita made a key 3 to bump GU’s lead to 43-38. He also had a nice drive down the right-side of the lane for a bucket that gave GU a 54-45 lead.

All this from a freshman who didn’t play in four the previous seven games. He’d only played 42 minutes in seven appearances this season.

“It was a really good feeling, especially because it was pretty important during the game,” Keita said of his 3. “It’s nice.”

“Frenchie!” Sacre smiled, when asked about Keita. “That’s Frenchie. He’s great. The effort he brings in practice, it’s a one-of-a-kind type of thing. I’m so proud of him, how he stepped up and made big plays. That’s what we need from the freshmen and guys coming off the bench.”

Stockton settled GU’s offense and helped the Zags build a 12-point first half lead. He was credited with three assists, but could have easily had five or six. One of his passes inside led to a foul and two GU free throws. Another resulted in Harris missing a reverse layup that Sacre easily followed. On another, Harris fumbled away the ball when he was open for a layup.

Stockton had some problems guarding Holloway a couple times, but he also stole the ball from the Xavier guard once.

--Gonzaga fielded several unusual lineup combinations, to the point I thought I was back watching Kraziness in the Kennel again. When I asked Few about them, he offered a chuckle and a favorable review, given the difficult circumstances some of the players were inserted into.

“It affected our execution and everything, but over break we can iron those things out,” Few said. “We had guys in different spots. They’re new to the program and they were barely learning their original spots. We just needed to kind of gut it out and win it ugly.”

Gonzaga had turnovers issues for sure, but kept plugging away and didn’t have the lengthy scoring droughts that Xavier encountered. The Zags won despite making just 38.1 percent from the field.

Xavier coach Chris Mack said his game plan against the Gray-less Zags was to apply heavy ball pressure. “Not because we felt their guards were sub par ballhandlers, but simply because we knew they’d be looking for the big guys underneath. Everything they run turns into a high-low situation and we wanted them to get the ball further away from the basket and pressure the guards and not give them easy looks in the post.”

GU was still able to feed the ball inside and cashed in with points in the paint or at the free-throw line.

--After a couple of games where it got hammered on the glass, Gonzaga has won (or tied vs. Baylor) the boards seven of the last eight. Last night GU was plus-12 and had a 7-4 edge in second-chance points. Manny Arop and Elias Harris each had three offensive boards. Arop collected five rebounds in 18 minutes.

Xavier hit the offensive glass for nine second-half rebounds, but GU still won the statistic 11-9.

--Still surprised that Xavier’s staff, the officials and the TV announcers didn’t catch Gonzaga switching free-throw shooters after Demetri Goodson was intentionally fouled by Dante Jackson on a run-out. XU’s Jeff Robinson and GU’s Manny Arop were tagged with technicals when tempers flared after the play. Goodson, who has struggled at the line, should have been the shooter. Instead, after a lengthy break in the action, Carter stepped up and made both shots.

--Chatted briefly Gray in the locker room. He said his back is feeling better, just wasn’t quite ready for the rigors of a game yet. He quickly bounced out of his chair several times to celebrate when his teammates were making plays, which is a good sign. I’m guessing he has a pretty good chance of returning when GU entertains Lafayette next Wednesday -- or if GU decides to give him a couple days more to rest, for Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve.

--There was a scary moment late when Harris went down while jockeying for rebounding position on a Xavier free throw. Harris, bothered by Achilles’ and shoulder issues earlier this season, stayed down briefly, grabbing at his left heel or ankle. He popped back up and finished up the game.

“It was kind of weird. He kind of stepped on my left heel. Not a big deal, I was more shocked, no, not again,” he laughed, referring to his right Achilles problem earlier this season.

Earlier this season, I asked Harris about his conditioning level, and he said it was pretty good because he was doing cardiovascular work when he was unable to practice. But it’s clear that over the last 2-3 weeks he’s been working his way into game shape through practice and extended minutes, rather than riding a stationary bike.

“There are a few things I need to change, play more aggressive again,” he said. “And over Christmas, I want to work out a lot and try to get back in my shape, like the World Championships shape when I came back (this summer). Through my injuries, I was sitting a lot, I didn’t move a lot. Conditioning wise, it kind of put me down. I’m just trying to get back to my old level. I’m getting there; I’m feeling a lot better.”

--Gonzaga had lost its pre-Christmas game the last four seasons (Duke last year, Portland State in ’09, Oklahoma in 08 and Duke in 07).

“It feels great,” Few said. “It’s always great to win your last one going into Christmas. It’s been awhile since we have so it’s great. I’m happy for our guys and I’m hoping it created some momentum for us.”

STATS OF NOTE

--GU attempted just eight 3-pointers (made two), a season-low. That comes on the heels on nine 3-point attempts vs. Baylor.

--Goodson made all four of his free throws for the second straight game. That 8-of-8 stretch hiked his free-throw percentage from 46 to 67 in two games.

--Eight Bulldogs had at least two turnovers. GU had an unsightly eight assists and 23 turnovers (Harris had five). XU was even worse: five assists and 18 turnovers (Holloway had seven).

--Gonzaga was in the bonus at the free-throw line after Xavier committed its seventh foul with 15:10 left in the first half, and again in the second at the 10:35 mark. GU’s seventh fouls came with 8:07 left in the first half and 6:49 in the second.

--Points of turnovers: XU 31, GU 17.

--Bench points: GU 17, XU 5.

QUOTES

Xavier’s Mack: “In the second half when we made a run and then Gonzaga sort of widened it out to four or five, we missed five free throws in a row. You can’t do that in a close game on the road. You come away with three empty possessions and a lead that could have been shrunk to 2 or 3 stretches to 9 or 10.”

Harris on winning without Gray: “Obviously Steve is a huge part of our team. Without him playing we knew everybody had to step up even more to win that game. I think that’s what we did.”

Few on Goodson coming back from a rough patch early in second half: “He was really tentative and not making the right decisions on offense, but to his credit he went back in and got back to making simple decisions on offense and he did a great job on Holloway. He’s a handful. He’s got a lot of freedom, he’s quick and he can score.”



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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