Back with the day-after Saint Mary’s post.
--Slept on it and still having a hard team believing what I saw unfold in the final, frantic 6-plus minutes last night. Saw being a relative term because from where I’m stationed in the second-to-last row upstairs, I looked into the backs of heads of fans standing virtually the entire game, shifting and craning my neck to try to follow the action.
From my distant vantage point it looked like the foul called on Domantas Sabonis with 6.6 seconds left was questionable at best, one of those touch fouls that refs typically call early on to try to free up movement and set a tone, not in a tie game with the final seconds ticking away.
Haven’t seen a replay but the reaction on social media seemed to indicate as much.
--Everything went so right for Gonzaga for roughly 34 minutes, then so wrong for the final 6. That’s become a storyline for Gonzaga’s rollercoaster season.
The Zags had kept an overflow crowd semi-quiet most of the night, controlling perhaps the nation’s most efficient offense. At the offensive end, the Zags found different scoring sources, the guards – particularly Kyle Dranginis and Eric McClellan – came up clutch basket after clutch basket and the lead was 61-51 after a big Dranginis 3 with 6:54 left.
“I was really proud of way we played and stuck to game plan, and executed for probably 35 minutes,” Dranginis said. “We’re going to see them again. We’re looking forward to it.”
And then the Zags made a U-turn.
The Gaels converted sloppy Zag turnovers into points, their guards got to the rim, Dane Pineau and Evan Fitzner scored on the low block, Fitzner was wide open on a cut to the basket. Joe Rahon, 1 of 5 from distance, buried a 3 with 4 minutes left and GU’s lead was down to 64-61.
GU’s offense in the final 6:45 consisted of McClellan's third 3-pointer of the game, a Domantas Sabonis free throw, Dranginis’ driving layup to tie it at 67 with 21.4 ticks left, some missed shots and five crushing turnovers.
“We just had a couple breakdowns defensively, and they hit some big shots and capitalized,” coach Mark Few said. “And we just had that spurt of turnovers, and that just killed us.”
Said SMC coach Randy Bennett: “That was a very gritty win. We beat a good team. It’s hard to beat them when they play well.”
--Kyle Wiltjer struggled at both ends of the floor. He had a season-low six points and matched his season low with just two rebounds. He took only seven shots. He finished with three assists and four turnovers.
“Obviously he and Sabonis are a big part of our scout,” Bennett said. “We did a pretty good job there and he probably didn’t have his best night but I’d like to think some of it was how we played him. We tried to do the same thing with Sabonis and it didn’t exactly work with him. That’s a heck of a one-two punch.”
--Bennett had high praise for the impact of the fans that produced an ear-splitting environment in the closing minutes.
“What really helped is the crowd got into the game, It was a factor," Bennett said. "A lot of times you ll get there and close it and they’ll separate, and they did that. Then we came back and we went past them. By that time it was pretty loud."
STATS OF NOTE
--GU attempted just five free throws, making three. SMC was 14 of 16.
--SMC and GU were both 15 of 24 from the field (62.5 percent) in the second half but the Gaels had 10 more points at the FT line.
--The Gaels had just 8 assists and nine turnovers.
--Gonzaga led for 33:58.
Bennett: “McClellan was hitting shots we didn’t really think he could make. He hit big ones. Sabonis played tremendous. I thought we were able to hold it together when we got down. We kept hanging in there, we didn’t panic and we didn’t go off on our own.”
Few: “Short time to bounce back (before Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against Pacific), just a gut-check game definitely.”
Dranginis: “We did a pretty good job of stopping them from getting their 3s. Toward the end they were able to knock down a few of those off our switches. I don’t know, I’m still kind of soaking it in.”
Sabonis: “We did everything, followed the plan, executed what the coaches wanted us to do. The last five minutes we slipped away from the plan.”