It wouldn’t be stretching a point to have expected San Diego State’s visit to the McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday night would result in the same type of game the Aztecs’ last visit became. To whit, a tight contest that came down to a final shot.
Instead Gonzaga raised its record to 2-0 and, if anyone was awake East of the Mississippi, raised its national profile at least 28.6 percent, or exactly what the Aztecs shot from the floor in an easy 69-48 GU victory.
But don’t get the wrong impression. It wasn’t that close.
It got so bad in the second half, as the Zags built a 30-point lead against the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference, ESPN’s announcing duo of Eric Rothman and Sean Farnham were stuck talking about the college football playoff rankings, the mannequin challenge and the Twitter account of Przemek Karnowski’s beard (@KarnowskisBeard) – an account that hasn’t posted a tweet in weeks.
That is the definition of filling time.
Of course, it wasn’t their fault. It was a combination of Gonzaga playing much of the game at a high level – neither half started all that well and garbage time favored the visitors – and San Diego State playing offense as if they hadn’t seen a zone since Karnowski was clean shaven.
And that was the difference. No, not the beard, the zone.
Gonzaga opened the game playing man. Which was fine, considering neither team scored in the first 4 minutes, 26 seconds. But by the time the first media timeout came at the 15:07 mark, the Aztecs had a 6-2 lead.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few substituted freshmen Zach Collins and Killian Tillie down low and went to a zone. The result: Gonzaga went on a 21-4 run, San Diego State shot less than 21 percent from the floor in the first half, had a 10-minute streak without a field goal in the second and the Zags ran SDSU out the Kennel’s doors.
Rothman and Farnham kept up, spending more time on Gonzaga and their chances this season – Farnham has them as a Final Four participant due to the depth and talent – than they did on the action. They also spent time – twice – on the students’ mad dash to line up for tickets.
And ESPN found a spot for the obligatory John Stockton shot – as well as two of more recent alum Robert Sacre.
Come to think of it, Sacre played the last time San Diego State visited Spokane, back when the Aztecs could actually score.
Then their go-to player was NBA star Kawhi Leonard, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds in that 2010 game San Diego State won 79-76. Monday night the go-to Aztec was Jeremy Hemsley, who finished with 14 points but was just 5 of 14 from the field.
Maybe it was easy to tell the Aztecs would have trouble scoring if only because their starting center was Washington State transfer Valentine Izudu, the 6-foot-10 shot blocker who never really played much for the Cougars. He took two shots Monday night – or the same number as Gonzaga shots he blocked.
But the three biggest guys who play close to the rim for GU – Karnowski, Collins and Tillie – were 13 for 20 from the floor, combining for 31 points and 24 rebounds.
• When referee David Hall called a foul on San Diego State’s Dakarai Allen with less than a minute left in the first half, Farnham took the chance to educate us on an officiating topic.
“That’s been a point of emphasis for the officials this year,” the former UCLA player said, “to call the first foul and call it quickly to try to clean up the physical contact underneath.”
Karnowski might differ with the ESPN color man.
With just less than 9 minutes left in the first half, Karnowski ducked into the paint and posted Izundu. The WSU transfer, who gives away a sixth-grader’s worth of weight to his GU counterpart, tried to push with an arm bar – using the forearm as a lever – on Karnowski’s back and also used his right leg to try to root him out, or displace him, from the position.
All of which are fouls.
Karnowski did what he needed to do, held his ground and pushed back, though replays showed Izundu didn’t budge.
Still, referee Verne Harris called a double foul. Which, by definition, isn’t calling the first foul. It was, however, Karnowski’s second foul of the half. He went to the bench, where he slammed a water bottle to the floor in frustration.
• If you turned on ESPN2 before the GU game, you might have caught the last few minutes of BYU’s win over Princeton. And saw the new-look Eric Mika.
You may remember Mika from a couple years back. He was a pretty thin freshman big man then. A highly skilled one, sure, but a freshman nonetheless.
Now, two years and an LDS mission to Italy later, Mika is a sophomore. A strong, aggressive, senior-aged sophomore who took the Tigers apart.
Mika had 26 points and 18 rebounds, both career highs, and looked as if he could have games with even more. If you thought the WCC race was going to come down to Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s, both currently ranked, you might be right.
But don’t count out the Cougars.
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