For one of the few times I forgot to DVR a Gonzaga game. Actually I forgot to send a desperate text 5 minutes before tip asking my wife or kids to DVR a GU game. But it's OK, I'm not sure I needed a second viewing of the first 18 minutes.
However, the Zags eventually did what they've done often this season, following up a rugged half with a strong one, and that generated a closer-than-the-score-indicated 59-39 win over San Diego.
Read on for my day-after post.
--As has happened several times over the years in matchups with the patient Toreros, Gonzaga was lulled into playing at USD’s slower pace, particularly in the first half.
USD drained the shot clock on most of its possessions and came through with 2-3 tough jumpers, including a fallaway 3 by Duda Sanadze that capped one shaky possession. Or the Toreros retrieved their miss and started the process all over again.
Two things created a quicker tempo more to GU's liking: Eric McClellan and rebounding. The Zags, trailing on the glass by as many as six in the first half, ended up plus-8 and that helped trigger GU’s transition game. McClellan, who has seen limited playing time as he returns from a foot injury, looked to be in a different gear than everyone else in game-changing 9-0 run to close the first half.
“I’m getting healthier, my foot is feeling good, knock on wood, and I’m just getting more comfortable with my teammates and with the offense,” said McClellan, who is limited to 45 minutes per day at practice.
The transfer from Vanderbilt impacted the game, despite only playing 10 minutes. He had three assists and one point.
“If a team wants to do that (slow the tempo), there’s really no denying them,” coach Mark Few said. “We played frustrated offensively but all the while I thought we played really solid defense.
“And Eric (McClellan) got in there and changed the game. He slapped our faces, woke us up and this is how we play. No matter how long their possessions are we can still push it up and attack and try to get something in transition. We weren’t doing that.”
--Much like Saint Mary’s in the first half, Gonzaga misfired often from close range for most of the first half. Domantas Sabonis changed that with three buckets in the final 2:04 and McClellan found Kyle Wiltjer for a layup.
The Zags had just four field goals in the first 18 minutes.
“We were kind of walking the ball up and coach Few wasn’t pleased with that,” Byron Wesley said. “He wanted us to attack more. We were kind of letting ball the stick in our hands. Once we started moving it guys were able to get open shots and we started getting easy baskets.”
Nothing came easy in the first half, but that changed in the final 20 minutes. Karnowski and Sabonis combined to make 7 of 9 attempts in the second half. Gary Bell Jr. buried two 3s and scored 10 of his 13 points.
“We started finishing inside,” Few said. “We missed a bunch, we settled and got pushed out to 6-8 feet, which we’ve been doing a pretty job of not allowing ourselves to be shoved out there. And then you mix in guys missing wide-open 3s and taking a couple shots of frustration like a runner or floater, and you look up and you have 15 points after 15 minutes.”
STATS OF NOTE
--Gonzaga’s three 3-pointers was its lowest of the season (four 3s on four occasions, the last on Dec. 10 against WSU). Kevin Pangos made a 3-pointer 18 seconds into the game and Bell hit one with 15 seconds remaining. In between, GU was 1 of 10.
--Gonzaga had to hustle to reach 22 points by halftime. The Zags have only six 20-point halves this season. Prior to Thursday, their lowest scoring half was 25 in the second half at USD.
For a while, it looked like GU’s McCarthey Athletic Center low of 19 points was in jeopardy.
--Guessing some folks out there immediately thought of the so-called SI cover jinx when Kyle Wiltjer, who was on the regional cover this week, finished with just five points. Wiltjer, who has been in double figures in six straight games and 11 of the last 12, obviously didn’t have his best night but he only took five shots, maybe one of those was forced.
He finished with four boards, three assists and two blocks.
--San Diego didn’t have a player reach double digits.
--The Toreros’ 39 points was its season low by 8 (vs. Pepperdine).
Karnowski: “Offensively in the first half, it didn’t work for us. It was slow, ball screens, that kind of stuff didn’t work. In the second half we moved the ball, looked inside and looked outside, Gary hit a couple of open shots and that worked pretty \well.”
Few on BYU: “We’ll probably have as many possessions (against BYU) as we did in the first half tonight. They’re as a good team as there is in transition, spreading you out and shoooting 3s and bouncing it at you. And they’re hungry to get themselves in the NCAA tournament.”
McClellan: “I was just trying to come in, play my game and have fun. Just being aggressive and trusting my preparation.”