There is something comforting about being home for the holidays. And that’s true even in college basketball, though the atmosphere in the McCarthey Athletic Center is always different this time of the year.
The students have left town, the high-profile teams are in the rearview mirror and the television broadcast is back to guys from the neighborhood.
That’s comforting, too.
Even if KHQ’s Greg Heister, Dan Dickau and Richard Fox occasionally bicker like the relatives who will meet at gramma’s house next week.
Oh, by the way, the Zags handled visiting Texas Arlington easily Tuesday night, winning 89-55 before the typically quiet Kennel holiday-break crowd.
What they saw …
The two analysts, Fox and Dickau, had their areas of focus, mainly on defense and on the boards. Makes sense, as there have been defensive breakdowns since they reached the top of the polls after the Thanksgiving tournament in Maui.
“The last three or four games, they’ve struggled on that end of the floor,” Dickau said, acknowledging a graphic that showed the Zags (10-2) are 304th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 78.7 points a game.
It’s a small thing, but scoring defense may be the worst defensive statistic to cite, as it’s overly dependent on a team’s offensive strategy as well.
Fox spoke about the rebounding problems the Bulldogs had in Chapel Hill, being doubled up by North Carolina. Against an undersized UTA team, Gonzaga had a 53-31 advantage on the glass. The Mavericks also shot less than 27 percent from the floor, and their point total was the lowest GU gave up this season.
• Fox and Dickau don’t disagree often, but when they do it is fun. Respectful, but fun.
The divisive subject this night? That would be Josh Perkins. Not his overall success this season. They agreed the senior is having his best season. No, they disagreed on how many shots Perkins should take.
Perkins hit his first 3-pointer, a long one early that seemed appropriate for a player making more than 40 percent of his attempts.
“That’s an area I would like him to do a little bit more,” Dickau said, “search out shots on the perimeter.”
Fox expressed his understanding of the thought, but added, “Given all the talent and scoring around him, is that really what he needs to be doing regularly, getting his own?”
Dickau stood his ground, Heister stepped in, played referee with a joke and they moved on.
What we saw …
• There may not be any snow on the ground less than a week until Christmas, but the atmosphere in the Kennel was chilly, as per usual without the students.
The Zags were not playing their best, despite facing a UTA team that had lost six consecutive games and is 3-8 overall.
Corey Kispert got into early foul trouble – as he did last weekend. Zach Norvell did not take a shot in the first half, something that wasn’t brought to the viewers’ attention until 3 minutes were left before intermission.
Perkins had almost as many turnovers as assists (finishing with three miscues and four assists, including a second-half one from his knees to Norvell). Filip Petrusev, whom Heister met with this week to ensure he was pronouncing his name correctly, scored 14 points but had the occasional defensive lapse that Dickau and Fox pointed out and discussed more than once.
And yet, despite stretches of lackluster play, the Zags led by 18 at halftime and never were really threatened.
• Brandon Clarke has made some of the most explosive and exciting blocks in the nation this season. So many, in fact, a really good one sometimes gets lost in the flotsam of the game.
With 3 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first half, the Mavericks’ Radshad Davis drove past Norvell and seemed to have a simple layup. But Clarke came over from the weak side, rose above the 6-foot-2 Davis and knocked the shot off the backboard – and right back into Clarke’s hands.
It was a tough play that the 6-8 Clarke made look easy. As he also did on the offensive end, finishing with 17 points and, in a point of emphasis, 13 rebounds.
• Perkins picked up a technical foul with 5:36 left when he threw David Azore after some contact on a Perkins’ breakaway – his first collegiate dunk, according to the official statistics and Perkins’ own judgment in the postgame interview with Dickau.
“You don’t have to do that there,” Fox said as the replay showed Perkins swinging Azore into the first row.
“Neither of them had to do it,” Dickau said, mentioning the low contact on Perkins’ shot.
Heister took Perkins’ side completely, admitting, when Fox seemed to disagree without saying anything more than OK, he was standing up for “my guy.”
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