No matter how you feel about the local broadcast trio who bring Gonzaga’s basketball games into local living rooms, there is something comforting about the continuity of roles.
Greg Heister not only shows his excitement on most every minute of the play-by-play, he often plays the role of target for the barbs of his partners. Those two, former Gonzaga players Dan Dickau and Richard Fox, have other roles as well, with Dickau focusing on the offense and Fox the defense.
It’s consistent. It’s relaxing. It’s expected.
But when one of the trio is missing, as it was Thursday night during Gonzaga’s 73-55 win over visiting Loyola Marymount on KHQ, it’s a bit jarring. At first.
It turned out, though, change can be invigorating.
What they saw …
• Dickau was on the road with his daughter, as she is competing in a national skating competition. Without him, Fox had the floor for most of the night. And with the defensive-minded Lions in the Kennel, it was a good match.
Case in point: A late first-half discussion between Fox and Heister about the Zags’ defense – what else? – and how to gauge Gonzaga’s improvement – or lack of same.
The context? Loyola Marymount (and a few other West Coast Conference schools) are not at the same offensive level as some of GU’s nonconference opponents – to put it nicely.
“Are we taking things away (the opposition) is trying to get?” Fox asked when asked by Heister what criteria should be used to judge their performance. “Are our rotations dialed in? Are we communicating defensively? Are we taking what we want to do … onto the floor?
“That’s how you measure things.”
Then he remembered one more.
“And it’s shot quality,” Fox continued. “Are we forcing difficult shots, shots they are more uncomfortable taking?”
The answers to those questions, Fox said, is, if not yes, at least they’re getting more consistent at those things.
• Gonzaga led 17-16 with 12 minutes left in the first half. It led 55-26 with 13 minutes remaining. The 39-9 run was keyed by the Zags’ defense.
As the run began, Fox pinpointed the cause right away.
“GU has just ramped it up defensively, partly with their on-ball pressure and how they’ve tried to double or hedge hard these ball screens,” he said.
• The flip side of that is sometimes the emphasis on defense can be misplaced, at least a little.
Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3 in WCC play) built an 11-1 start to its season mainly on its defense. But the quality of the Lions’ opposition may have contributed to their statistics – and their record.
The more advanced analytics, like those from Ken Pomeroy, don’t see the Lions as all that solid.
Even though Fox labeled Loyola “maybe the best defensive team” in the conference, they are a well-back fourth, and 103rd in the nation.
Going into Thursday, USF was still rated the best (43rd) with Gonzaga second (45) and Saint Mary’s (100) ahead.
• What Loyola Marymount is good at is forcing turnovers. That showed as Gonzaga had 16, many of those of the “what-were-they-thinking?” variety.
But overall, Gonzaga’s defense was better in every measurable metric, from turnovers forced (17-16), to shooting percentage (the Lions shot 38, but were below 30 until the final minutes; GU shot 51 percent) to defensive rebounds (GU led 23-19).
What we saw …
• Before the season began, there was some thought the fifth-ranked Zags (17-2, 4-0) would play their three bigs (Killian Tillie, Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura) at the same time some. But Tillie’s injury scuttled those plans.
With his return, it was just a matter of time.
That time came with 11:29 left.
“I’m fascinated to see this look for GU,” Fox said, “having all three bigs on the court.”
The experiment lasted just a few minutes.
• Clarke was his usual dominating self, with a dunk drawing most of the attention on the broadcast. But there was a play midway through the second half that really showcased his talent.
The Lions were pressuring full court. They stretched to every Gonzaga player, even as the Zags spread the court. The simple answer? Clarke flashed to the middle about 30 feet from the basket. The 6-foot-8, 231-pound sophomore Jordan Bell came out with him. Big mistake.
Clarke made one move, blew past Bell like a point guard and finished with a layup. And a foul.
Those were just two of his 13 points (he missed the free throw). But it showed something few 6-8 posts can do.
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