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Gonzaga Basketball

TV Take: Gonzaga’s slow start allows time to ponder, but Zags finally pick up pace

Mark Few has done about 10 instructional DVDs over the course of his Gonzaga coaching career.

The titles vary from “Flex for Success” to “Quick Hitting 3-Point Plays.”

Maybe he should do one more. And use a couple of the games this season against the University of the Pacific, including the Zags’ West Coast Conference tournament opener, as the instructional part.

Call it “Halftime Speeches for Success.”

Whatever it is Few has said at halftime of the Pacific contests has seemed to work.

It worked in Stockton on New Year’s Eve, when the Bulldogs trailed 34-29 at intermission. They outscored the Tigers 52-27 in the second half.

It worked again on Saturday night in Las Vegas, as the fourth-ranked Zags led just 27-25 after 20 minutes.

The second half? It was 55-25, Gonzaga.

Poor Roxy Bernstein and Jon Barry had to make sense of it for the ESPN2 audience.

It wasn’t easy, especially with Gonzaga coming off its only loss of the season – the senior-night defeat to BYU – scoring seven points in less than 90 seconds. And then the offense became, well, stagnant.

At the first media break, with the Zags up 7-3, Bernstein said “a little bit of a sluggish start for Gonzaga.”

At the second media break and the score tied at seven, Bernstein called it “a slow start for Gonzaga.”

Yes it was. Why?

Barry, who played at a couple of colleges, including Pacific, and for years in the NBA, couldn’t really decide if it was a residue of the BYU defeat or because the Zags hadn’t played in a week.

“You don’t have a week off at any point during the season,” Barry pointed out. “You constantly play a couple games a week.”

But he also conceded that “maybe (the BYU loss) is still in their heads.”

There was another reason Gonzaga wasn’t scoring at will, but no one pointed it out. Pacific’s disciplined 2-3 zone was giving the Bulldogs fits.

The Tigers (11-22) opened playing man and the Zags immediately fed Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams. When Pacific switched, the inside game was taken away.

“We’ve just seen no flow from the Zags,” Barry said as the first half wound down. A minute later he wondered again if it was a hangover from the BYU loss.

“I guess there really are a lot of hangovers in this town,” he joked.

Few had the cure. Though it took a while for the announcers to pick up on it.

The Zags came out of the locker room running. And didn’t stop, rarely giving the Pacific zone time to set up. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Gonzaga defense improved at the same time.

“When your offense is not going, you can always play good defense,” Barry said at one point, then, early in the second half, pointed out a great defensive play by Jordan Mathews that seemed to ignite Gonzaga’s offense.

As Gonzaga (30-1) built the lead to double digits, Barry caught the emotion of the fans in attendance – Bernstein twice referred to the Orleans’ crowd as “Spokane south” – perfectly.

“They sense that this team has fought through the hangover of BYU,” Barry said, “the first half that was as ugly as they’ve played all season long and now they got it cranking.”

Coming out of the 8-minute media time out, and Gonzaga leading by 16, Bernstein finally hit Pacific’s coffin nail on the head.

“Gonzaga has clearly picked up the tempo,” as a montage of transition plays showed on the screen.

Of course, with the lead north of 20 points, the final few minutes were typical of a Zags broadcasts this season.

It was time for the announcing duo to delve into players like Rui Hachimura (Bernstein has professed his love of his NBA-like athleticism), to praise Gonzaga’s improved defense (Barry calling them “a terrific defensive team”) and to examine the culture Few has built in Spokane.

Barry compared it twice to the San Antonio Spurs – for years the NBA gold standard for team basketball.

And he also dipped into his NBA roots to compare a Silas Melson illegal screen to those of John Stockton, inducted into the WCC hall of honor earlier in the day.

Finally, he finished with a quick summary of the second half.

“They started slowly,” he said of the Bulldogs, “but they played great “D” in the second half and they rolled on.”