Back with my day-after post following the Zags’ 71-61 bounce-back win over Pacific (while trying to keep an eye on the TV to watch SMU's road loss to Temple, the Mustangs' first loss. GU-SMU on Feb. 13 in Dallas).
GU-Pacific game story here. Read on.
--We’ve spilled plenty of ink dissecting Gonzaga’s late-game issues in five narrow losses so the equal time rule applies here. GU wasn’t in a good place 5-plus minutes into the second half. The Zags had fallen behind 40-35, their offense was uneven and the Tigers seemed to be finding their range after burying back-to-back 3s.
The Tigers were gaining confidence. The 4,309 inside Spanos Center were becoming invested, believing an upset was possible.
Gonzaga responded by taking over the game, first with a 10-2 spurt and after trading baskets for 3-4 minutes, a decisive 11-0 run.
“Just staying together,” is how senior guard Eric McClellan put it. “Going back to Thursday, we did some tremendous things, such great things on defense, took care of the ball for the most part. Late in the game we made some bonehead plays but credit Saint Mary’s. They made winning plays down the stretch, but I still think we took tremendous strides.
“For us to respond, against a really physical, tough team after a demoralizing loss, I’m really proud of our guys.”
McClellan was a central figure in Gonzaga’s runs, scoring on dribble penetration, getting to the free-throw line and making a couple of timely steals. He had 15 of his 19 points in the final 20 minutes.
“The guy is just diving on the ground,” Kyle Wiltjer said. “He’s making winning plays. That’s the stuff guys might not see in the stat sheet. He might not get a steal, but he’ll tip it. He really gets us going. He keeps playing like that were going to be a special team come March.”
The Zags led by as many as 14. Pacific pulled within nine late, thanks to GU missing free throws, before McClellan and Domantas Sabonis made three foul shots in the final minute.
--Pacific missed a lot of shots – a number of open looks from the perimeter and close-range attempts – and when it did, Domantas Sabonis was usually there to retrieve the ball. The Tigers shot just 31 percent and had 42 misfires, Sabonis had 17 defensive boards. Point guard Josh Perkins snagged six more.
The sophomore forward had 20 rebounds, a GU career-high. He once had 28 in a European U-20 game.
“He’s just been posting these unbelievable numbers. It’s not just about the numbers but the way he does it," Few said. "There was some traffic, athletes, size and strength chasing those rebounds. To get 20 boards in a physical game like is an unbelievable accomplishment. It really is.”
Sabonis is averaging 11.5 boards per game, 12.3 in conference play. At his current pace, Sabonis stacks up well historically with the best rebounders in WCC games dating back to the late 1970s. He trails only Santa Clara’s John Bryant (15.1 in 2009) and San Francisco’s Bill Cartwright (16.1 in 1979). USF’s Darryl Johnson averaged 12.3 boards in 1992.
STATS OF NOTE
--Gonzaga guards committed just two turnovers.
--McClellan has made 25 of his last 29 free throws.
--The Zags outscored Pacific 32-14 in paint points.
--GU outscored the Tigers 14-8 in second-chance points, despite Pacific’s 10-8 edge in offensive rebounds.
--Sabonis is second on the team in assists with 27 in WCC play.
--McClellan’s 42-point weekend boosted his scoring average to 10.4.
Wiltjer: “On the road, you’re going to get a good shot from anybody. Those guys play hard, they’re a scrappy team and they’re deep. We had to scout like 16 guys.”
Few on McClellan: “What a great response to the other night. He responded like a winner.”