There are lucky numbers and there are unlucky numbers. And occasionally, numbers are both at the same time.
Gonzaga ascended to the No. 13 spot in the Associated Press basketball poll this week and that proved to be unlucky, as the Zags proceeded to lose their first West Coast Conference game of the season, 74-71 to Saint Mary’s before the usual 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
But, for those battling triskaidekaphobia, it was the Gaels’ 13th consecutive win, which seems sort of lucky.
And speaking of lucky, with ESPN in the Kennel for what they termed the West’s best rivalry, viewers at home were treated with Tom Hart’s play-by-play and former Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo’s analysis.
What they saw …
Carlesimo has visited Spokane before, the first time in the late 1980s when he spoke at a clinic for high school coaches, hosted by then-Gonzaga coach Dan Fitzgerald.
That was before he lost a national title game – 1989, in the Kingdome to Michigan – and before he tried coaching in the NBA. And well before he became a game analyst. But he hasn’t lost his insight into the game.
Or, as with many college coaches, his confidence – or lack of – in officials making the correct call.
Phrases such as “lots of contact (but) no whistle” and “unfortunate foul call” were sprinkled through the game, along with the dreaded “if anything, I thought (the contact) was on the arm.”
That last one came on Gonzaga’s penultimate shot of the night, an air-balled 3-pointer by Josh Perkins with 5 seconds left and the final score already on the board.
Kevin Brill, a couple of steps away, decided there was no contact – on the ball or the arm – and the Zags had their first home loss of the season in a game they led by as many as nine points in the second half.
But that was before the Saint Mary’s defense began to assert itself. Well, either that or Gonzaga began to take poor shots.
Carlesimo and Hart debated that down the stretch, with the Zags’ 27 percent shooting from beyond the arc the biggest argument for the latter.
Unfortunately Carlesimo invoked the overused “live by the 3, die by the 3” dictum at one point, though his analysis was a little more pointed after Perkins, who was 1 for 6 from long range, missed a corner 3-pointer.
“He’s been forcing a lot of looks tonight,” Hart noted.
Carlesimo picked up on the comment, noted Gonzaga (16-4 overall, 6-1 in WCC play) had six players averaging more than 10 points a game coming in but that “Josh Perkins is the one that’s struggling tonight.”
Perkins finished with six points on 1-of-9 shooting – though he did have seven assists and only two turnovers.
Struggling could have applied to Silas Melson (3-of-8 shooting) and, too a lesser degree, Johnathan Williams (6 of 12).
What we saw …
Nobody struggled in the first half, with Gonzaga shooting 56.3 percent from the field and Saint Mary’s hitting 61.5 percent of its attempts.
A big part of the problem was neither team was playing well on defense, though Carlesimo seemed reluctant to point to the many straight-line drives given up and slow rotations that plagued both teams.
The second half was a different story, though, as Carlesimo noted the defensive improvement, saying the teams had locked in and “the baskets are coming with a lot more difficulty.”
That was true even for Rui Hachimura, who hit 7 of 9 shots in the first half and finished 11 of 16, which included a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer. His career-high 23 points earned him praise from the former NBA head coach.
When Hart noted there had never been a player from Japan drafted by the NBA, Carlesimo jumped right in.
“That’s going to change in the next two years, that’s for sure,” he said.
What’s not changing is Saint Mary’s as the favorite in this year’s WCC race. At least not now.
With Jock Landale scoring a game-high 26 and Calvin Hermanson, a pair of seniors, adding 16 (11 in the second half), the Gaels (18-2, 7-0) have won at BYU and at Gonzaga, the two toughest conference road trips.