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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Zags making strides defensively

Back from media day and I took a deeper look at Gonzaga’s defense. It’s been outstanding the last three games, bouncing back from a rough second half against Pepperdine.

Read on for more on the defense, a progress report on redshirts Bryan Alberts and Ryan Edwards and Super Bowl predictions from Kevin Pangos and Mark Few.

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Here are the first four items mentioned in this week’s WCC media release:

Two WCC teams (BYU and Gonzaga) rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring. The WCC is the top conference nationally in field goal percentage (45.3). Four WCC programs (BYU, GU, Saint Mary’s and Portland) are in the top 40 in assists. And the WCC ranks second in 3-point percentage (36.6).

Nary a mention of defense. Offense generally hogs the headlines at Gonzaga, too, and rightfully so with the Zags ranking among the nation’s best in numerous categories. But Gonzaga’s defense is climbing up some important national charts, thanks in part to a stellar three-game stretch.

“We had a couple of meetings (after Pepperdine) while we watched film and really just learned from it and continued to listen to the coaches,” forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “A lot of the game is mental, especially being on a good team. We’re probably going to out-talent a lot of teams, now it’s about being mentally there and really taking the scouting report and making it tough on them.”

After a disappointing second half defensively against Pepperdine in Malibu, the Zags have limited their last three foes to 54 points per game. That number is impressive, but Gonzaga focuses more on opponents’ shooting percentages and points per possession.

Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary’s and Pacific combined to make 53 of 162 shots (32.7 percent). From the 3-point line, the trio was 12 of 58 (20.6 percent).

Those three teams won’t be confused with offensive juggernauts but the Gaels, fourth in WCC in field-goal percentage, have capable scorers, including center Brad Waldow, wing Garrett Jackson and guards Aaron Bright and Kerry Carter. All four failed to reach their season averages and Jackson was the only one who came close.

“There are reasons why we’re winning and why we get a lead and one of those reasons is what we’re doing on defense, directing the ball to some tough shots, doing a good job on first-shot rebounding and hopefully adhering to scouting reports better,” coach Mark Few said.

Pepperdine torched Gonzaga for 45 second-half points on 63-percent shooting. The Waves’ 76 points equaled Georgia for the second highest allowed by Gonzaga this season.

“You have to get worse before you get better sometimes and just have a reminder,” senior guard Kevin Pangos said. “If you can learn in a victory (over Pepperdine), it’s the best way to learn.

Pangos said it’s important for Gonzaga to “guard as a team. You’re matched up one-on-one but you can’t always play perfect defense. The other four guys being in the right spots make it more difficult for that individual. If one guy helps, another guy helps him.”

The Zags rank 48th in scoring defense (60.7), 22nd in field-goal percentage defense (38.2), 33rd in 3-point percentage defense (30.2) and 14th in defensive rebounds (27.4).

Redshirts progress report

Ryan Edwards and Bryan Alberts have spent the season redshirting. They typically play with the “Red” squad, which serves as the scout team for an upcoming opponent. Alberts, for example, has been impersonating Portland wing Kevin Bailey at practice.

“I think I’m smarter and know the game better. I feel a lot better, a lot stronger,” said Edwards, who battles Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Wiltjer in practice. “They’re highly skilled athletes. I like it because it gets me better.”

Few said there have been days when Edwards has been dominant and others, like Tuesday, when he needed better focus.

“You have to be a little selfish and get after it,” Few said. “Bryan has looked good. He’s really shot the ball well all year from 3.”

Super predictions

Pangos and Few both picked Seattle to win the Super Bowl.

“That last game (NFC championship) was awesome how they pulled it out,” Pangos said. “I really admire Russell Wilson, what he does and how he does it.”

“I think they dodged a bullet in the NFC title game,” said Few, who misfired on his Oregon pick in the national championship game. “Their defense will throttle them, (Marshawn) Lynch will have a big game and they’ll cruise.”

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