It’s the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals.
There are three givens:
Gonzaga will be playing; the Zags will win; and Bob Wischusen and Dick Vitale will be on the ESPN call.
OK, that last one has only happened the past three years, but that’s enough to start a tradition, right?
The Zags kept the key one going. They held off the University of San Francisco’s upset attempt, 81-77 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, to make the tournament final for the 23rd consecutive season.
What they saw …
• No matter what you think of Vitale, beneath all the “babys” and the “PTPers” is a knowledgeble basketball mind. You would expect nothing less from a former college and NBA coach. And when the game is close, Vitale has the sense to display it.
In this one, Vitale focused on Gonzaga’s fast break, a staple for the Zags since Mark Few took over – and even before.
“You’ve got to be able to defend and contain their transition game,” Vitale said after the Bulldogs (30-2) had beaten the Dons’ defense down the court again. “You don’t do that, you’re not going to win the basketball game. I don’t care who you are.”
At the half, when the Zags led by five, the official statistics only had GU with five transition points. That seemed low. The Bulldogs did, however, finish with 11.
• Before the game, USF head coach Todd Golden was asked by sideline reporter Sean Farnham how he could reverse a tough trend. Twice this season, the Dons (22-12) led Gonzaga at the half and twice they lost.
“First of all,” Golden answered, smiling, “first off I have to do a much better job with my halftime speech.”
Or make better decisions in the first half. The Dons’ only true big – 7-foot, 250-pound Jimbo Lull – picked up two fouls in the first half, the second coming with almost 6 minutes left.
Golden decided to leave him in. Vitale agreed.
It was a mistake. Lull picked up his third a little more than a minute later.
And then he made a mental mistake with a moving screen 2 minutes after intermission. Vitale was flabbergasted.
“He’s got to know better,” Vitale said. “It could change the whole game.”
It did, except in an unexpected way. USF played as well without him as it had with him, spreading the court more and attacking off the dribble aggressively.
“The team has responded with Lull on the pine,” Vitale said.
Lull returned, missed a couple key free throws and fouled out with 2:20 left.
What we saw …
• Throughout the game, Tommy Lloyd’s name continually showed up on the news/score crawl at the bottom of the screen. And it wasn’t because of his son Liam, according to John Blanchette on Twitter, hitting a first-half promotional shot that won some swag.
Lloyd, who has been at Gonzaga since 2001 and is the designated head coach in waiting, was named to the relatively new assistant coach Hall of Fame. The award, the Zags’ second in two seasons (former assistant Donny Daniels was inducted last year), was probably not as important as making the WCC title game.
Or, for Liam, the free gear.
• The key to the win? It might have been an individual stretch turned in by Joel Ayayi with 4:35 left and the game tied at 69.
The 6-4 guard grabbed a missed free throw and scored on the other end. He grabbed another miss and scored on the other end. The four-point edge held up.
“Joel really attacking constantly late in the game,” Vitale said just before Ayayi hit two free throws with fewer than 2 minutes remaining. “I’ll tell you what, he’s been the star late in the game.”
The key matchup …
• Charles Minlend has one speed. And one direction. The 6-4 guard goes to the rim as aggressively as he can.
He did it well enough in this one to score a team-high 19 points. He also added seven rebounds.
About the only Gonzaga defender who slowed him a bit was Corey Kispert, but it came at a cost. He struggled offensively, hitting just 2 of 5 shots and scoring four points. He also was saddled with foul trouble, finishing with four.
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