LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga doubters already make up a small segment of college basketball’s fan base.
Even that crowd has dwindled some since the 2018-19 season started, as the Bulldogs have ascended to the country’s top ranking, recorded another 30-win season and dismantled one West Coast Conference opponent after another.
But the nonbelievers still exist, and one of their common critiques of Mark Few’s team this season has been the skill and talent – and maybe more than that, the general consistency – of Gonzaga’s backcourt, especially when compared to the Bulldogs’ formidable frontcourt.
Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr. and Geno Crandall haven’t had to be the best players on the court in most games, largely because the Zags have two All-America candidates patrolling the paint: redshirt junior forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke. Junior Killian Tillie’s return gives the group even more depth – and theoretically takes even more pressure off the backcourt.
But the guards definitely gave their critics more ammunition Tuesday night in No. 1 Gonzaga’s 60-47 loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game at the Orleans Arena.
Perkins was one of two double-digit scorers for the Bulldogs, but it took him 14 shots to score his 10 points. The senior finished 4 of 14 from the field, 0 of 3 from 3-point range, dished out four assists and committed five turnovers – matching his WCC high.
“They’re real gappy. Sped us up a bit. Some jitters. I don’t know,” Perkins said. “Stuff that we usually don’t do … it’s on us and we’ll learn from it. We’ll get better. We’re good. We’re in good hands.”
Norvell was spotty, too, shooting 1 of 11 and 0 of 6 on 3s. It was just the third time this season the sophomore didn’t connect from beyond the arc.
“Things were just really tough for us on the offensive end. Our shots didn’t fall,” Norvell said. “We made a couple tough ones.”
Gonzaga’s open looks seemed to fall everywhere but inside the hoop, but Norvell also seemed to think the Gaels made some adjustments to their game plan since the WCC rivals met on March 2.
“They did a better job closing in, helping each other on the defensive end,” he said.
Similar to Perkins, Norvell would’ve liked to see his assist-to-turnover ratio flipped.
“Just uncharacteristic turnovers,” he said. “Their guards did a pretty good job of controlling the pace. They made some big-time shots, big-time plays. Credit to those guys.”
Crandall played 17 minutes, but the senior transfer also failed to make any contributions to Gonzaga’s constantly sputtering offense, missing both of his shots to finish scoreless.
“Credit to them and their game plan they were putting together, but I think honestly we just missed shots, and we’ve got to be better than that,” Crandall said. “We can’t let that happen and if we do, we can’t let it affect our game. We’ve got to be able to find another way to get things done at the end of the day. Whether it’s your night or not, you’ve got to find a way to win. That’s what good teams do, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Individually, the guard production didn’t look pretty. Combined, it was much worse.
Perkins, Norvell and Crandall were a combined 5 of 27 from the field and 0 for 10 from distance while committing eight turnovers and totaling only four assists. Their 12 combined points were a season worst on a night the Zags seemed to be hitting offensive lows all around.
“We had many, numerous opportunities in transition,” Few said. “We just made some really, really poor decisions and didn’t take advantage of them. They were there for the taking, and they were at costly times.”