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GU’s defensive shuffle cuts down Cards Louisville can’t meet Bulldogs’ dare to shoot from outside in second half

Gonzaga issued the challenge at halftime: Shoot it or go home. So Louisville left town. The Cardinals, after confounding the Bulldogs with all kinds of sharp cuts to the basket and easy lay-ins during the first half of Saturday’s opening-round matchup in the NCAA West Regional men’s basketball tournament, iced up after intermission and exited the tournament early following a 77-66 loss. Coach Denny Crum’s team, after building a modest 39-38 halftime lead, made just 9 of 32 second-half shots and finished a miserable 2 for 17 from 3-point range. “I thought coming into this game that we would shoot the ball a lot better than that,” Crum said. The masterminds behind Gonzaga’s defensive strategy felt differently, however, which is why the Bulldogs played zone almost exclusively in the second half. “We were man-to-man the first half and didn’t do a very good job on their UCLA cut,” explained GU assistant Billy Grier, who mapped out several defensive changes at intermission. “We told our kids that we were allowing them to score too easily and that we needed to make them beat us from the perimeter.” The Zags started the second half in a “combo” defense, switching between a man-to-man and zone depending on whether they scored on offense. “The zone was kind of effective, so we decided to stay with it. It helped negate their penetration and allowed us to take away some of their back cuts.” And it also frustrated the Cardinals. “We realized that to beat them, we’d have to throw a whole bunch of different defenses at them - 22 zone, 23 zone and different kinds of man-to-man,” explained senior center Axel Dench. “We’d come down and look like we were in something and then change it, and they’d kind of look around all confused and start bickering with each other. “With about 4 or 5 minutes to go, they started going one-on-one and when we started getting the defensive rebounds, it was over.” Grier said the Zags played man on only about four or five of Louisville’s second-half possessions. “We finally got back to making them shoot over a hand,” said head coach Mark Few. “About 80 percent of their shots in the first half were lay-ins - against both our man and zone. But we got our guys in there at halftime and got them calmed down. “Billy and Leon (Rice) did a great job of adjusting a few things and taking away the inside. We kind of packed it in and forced them to take jump shots.” Louisville scoring leader Marques Maybin, who finished with a team-high 21 points, said he was impressed with the Bulldogs’ second-half defensive effort. “They played tough defense,” he said. “They switched off of our screens to take away some of our easy looks. We had our opportunities, we just couldn’t know down our shots. With us, when it rains it pours. We can outshoot anybody when we get it going, but when they’re not falling, it has a snowball effect.”
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