Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few said it months ago and he repeated it Tuesday.
“Not to be redundant, but I said we were going to miss the toughness and rebounding of (David) Pendergraft and (Abdullahi) Kuso,” Few said.
His response was to a question about team rebounding, which was one of Gonzaga’s strengths early this season. The Bulldogs won the boards in eight of their first nine games, the only blemish coming in the first meeting with Tennessee. The Vols outrebounded GU 50-26 at the Old Spice Classic.
Gonzaga has been outrebounded in five straight games. That hasn’t happened to the Zags in the 21st century. The Bulldogs lost the boards in four consecutive games in the 2006-07 season (versus Washington, Georgia, Duke and Nevada).
The Bulldogs’ rebounding margin is still plus-1.7 per game, but that has slipped after losing the glass to Connecticut (by 10), Portland State (nine), Utah (six), Tennessee (four) and Portland (one).
“It’s desire, toughness and some concentration,” Few said. “It’s time for some guys to go get the ball. It’s not a strength of these particular players’ games.”
Gonzaga has played some zone defense, which can leave a team susceptible on the boards. However, against Portland, which outrebounded Gonzaga 36-35 last Saturday, Few said, “We didn’t hardly play a stitch of zone.”
The Bulldogs are more of a finesse team than a power team, and there are times when they employ a slender or undersized front line. Again, Few wasn’t buying that as a valid excuse.
“Meech (Demetri Goodson) is probably our best guy at going and getting the ball. Our guards should be terrific rebounders and they’re not slender by any stretch,” said Few, whose 2007-08 team led the WCC in rebounding at plus-5.2. “They’re not pulling their weight. Nobody’s really pulling their weight.
“It’s probably the most glaring area, if you analyze us statistically. … We’ll keep drilling it, stressing it and making substitutions around it, but eventually somebody has to go in and get it done.”
Thursday would be a good time to start. Santa Clara’s 6-foot-11, 275-pound John Bryant ranks among the national leaders in rebounding. The Broncos are second in the WCC at plus-3.4.
“I know I didn’t rebound well the last game,” Bulldogs forward Josh Heytvelt said. “We’ve been working on it a lot in practice. Maybe there’s been a little slippage in the games, but I think we’re improving in that area.
Few said the recent change in the starting lineup – Steven Gray for Micah Downs – was “more sending a message that we have to rebound. We had several bad rebounding games and we’re trying to emphasize it.”
Gonzaga started the same five for the first 12 games before making the change for Gray.
Gray has responded with two strong games. He had 13 points, five steals, three rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 37 minutes against Portland. He had 14 points, six assists and one turnover in 41 minutes against Tennessee.
Gray’s scoring average (10.9) has been on the rise since he scored 23 against Connecticut.
“I was comfortable coming off the bench, but it’s what the coaches feel will help the team,” Gray said. “If I play hard, things will take care of themselves.”
Downs understands the reasons for the switch.
“I feel more comfortable (starting), but it’s whatever is going to get the job done and get us wins and for us to go far into the tournament,” said Downs, who contributed seven rebounds and five points against Portland.
Matt Bouldin was named WCC player of the week after averaging 20 points and 5.5 assists in wins over Tennessee and Portland. … GU’s Goodson and Tennessee’s Wayne Chism exchanged words again, but this time they were pleasant ones. The two had an on-court dust-up in Orlando, Fla., and they found themselves lined up next to each other on a free throw last week in Knoxville. Goodson said they talked amicably, laughed a little and went about their business.
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