This one was supposed to be different than Gonzaga’s recent three consecutive home nonconference routs. Tighter, more competitive.
And for a while, the Zags’ New Year’s Eve matchup with Cal State Bakersfield was.
“If anybody at home thought tonight was going to be different, they now know,” play-by-play voice Greg Heister told KHQ’s viewers after 10 minutes and Gonzaga leading by five. “And so do these Zag players.”
Which is just about the time GU began to get some separation en route to a hard-fought 89-54 victory at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
What they saw …
• The seventh-ranked Zags (13-2) started slowly as Bakersfield did a nice job attacking something that has been a strength of Gonzaga’s defense the past couple years: the ability to switch ball screens.
The Roadrunners (8-5) enticed the Zags to switch point guard Josh Perkins on a big, then immediately tried to attack the mismatch and get the ball to their player down low. It resulted in two quick fouls on Gonzaga’s main ball handler.
“You know you’re going to switch,” analyst Dan Dickau said. “Josh has to fight to a front (of the bigger player) a little bit sooner, and everyone else has to see that (and) understand that.
“They’re trying to post Josh up.”
“That’s the risk of Gonzaga’s switching defense,” fellow analyst Richard Fox chimed in, “particularly against a good team, a good point guard … he’s going to search out those switches.”
While Perkins sat for nine minutes of the first half, Gonzaga’s offense struggled a bit. At one point GU was 4 of 14 from the floor.
• But the Bulldogs have a not-so-secret weapon. Jeremy Jones replaced Perkins and the Zags offense got going, mainly due to the little things the senior reserve did before halftime.
Jones rebounded, grabbing seven – two of them on the offensive end, both resulting in baskets. He took five shots and hit four. And he excited Heister.
As Gonzaga took a 43-24 lead to the locker room, Fox described how it happened.
“It’s been defense, defense, defense for Gonzaga,” Fox said.
“And Jeremy Jones,” Heister interjected.
Jones finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
• Maybe it was the final first-half play Jones made that had earned the heading-into-halftime praise.
Cal State Bakersfield had taken its last shot with only a few seconds remaining, and Jones cleared the rebound. As he headed up the court, it looked as if he would stop and try a long shot as the clock ran out. But he spied Brandon Clarke racing down the middle ahead and hit him with a pass.
Clarke’s floater banked through as the clock expired. It was part of Clarke’s 16 points, tied with Zach Norvell for second on the Zags behind Rui Hachimura’s 22.
“What awareness by Jones,” Heister said. “By all rights, Jeremy should have shot that.”
• If Jones’ first-half performance sounded familiar to Zags fans, there was a reason.
“It’s reminiscent of the Illinois game at Maui,” Fox reminded viewers six minutes before halftime. “Gonzaga was really struggling with Illinois’ press and Jones came in and had the game of his life. Really won the game for GU.”
What we saw …
• The most dynamic offensive player on the McCarthey court was actually wearing yellow.
The Roadrunners’ Jarkel Joiner was, at times, unstoppable.
And the broadcast crew marveled at his successes. Late in the first half, CSUB invited the Zags’ Clarke into multiple switches onto the 6-foot-1 point guard. As soon as Joiner got some separation, he pulled up and scored.
That aggressiveness continued into the second half despite the Zags continuing to build on their lead. Early on, Joiner scored in transition at the rim despite the presence of Clarke and Hachimura and despite his – at-least – 7-inch height disadvantage.
“He is fearless,” Fox marveled. “He is not afraid.”
Joiner followed that up with one of his numerous outside jumpers, leading Heister to say, “Jarkel Joiner doing all he can do for CSU Bakersfield right now.”
Joiner finished with a game-high 24 points. It just wasn’t enough.
• There was one interesting second-half play that flummoxed Dickau and Fox as they tried to anticipate a decision by the officiating crew.
The Roadrunners’ Taze Moore fouled out with 9 minutes left. His fifth was what looked a bit like a slap to Jones’ face as he tried to throw down a dunk.
Watching the replay, Dickau and Fox debated whether it was a flagrant foul, with Dickau finally deciding it was a Flagrant 1, basically an excessive foul that was inadvertent.
Referees Rick Batesole, Frank Harvey and Nik Caruthers saw the same replays viewers at home saw and made a different decision. It was called a common foul, surprising the analysts.
“The crazy thing about this rule is it so subjective,” Fox said, using the verbal equivalent of shaking his head.
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