If Gonzaga is going to lose a game this season, at least a West Coast Conference game, the blueprint may just come from the first 30 minutes of its 76-58 victory over Pacific on Thursday night.
There are a few key issues that have to pop up for such an outlier to occur, the most important of which CBS Sports Network analyst Jim Spanarkel pointed out more than once in the first half.
“I know the score is tied,” he told his partner, Tom McCarthy, with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left in the first half, “but this has been a win so far for Pacific, in terms of just the tempo and the way this first half is being played.”
So how was that, Jim? Turns out, he had explained that already.
“It plays into (Pacific’s) hands, on a positive note, if they can keep it ugly,” he said 10 minutes earlier. It was ugly. And sloppy, out-of-sorts and physical.
What they saw …
• When Jeremiah Bailey hit a 10-foot jumper with 15 minutes left, giving the Tigers (5-5 , 2-4 WCC ) their largest lead, 42-35, Spanarkel quickly caught the tenor of the game.
“At this point in the game,” the former Duke player said, “they’re going to make Gonzaga think a little bit.”
He was right, and that was not a good thing for Pacific.
The top-ranked Zags (18-0, 9-0) went on a 14-5 run to take a 49-47 lead. Then Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire lost his cool on one of the night’s many odd offensive foul calls.
His best player throughout the game, Jordan Bell, had seemed to have tied the game on a layup after Drew Timme made contact on the drive. It looked as if Bell was headed to the foul line. But the official on the baseline, Wilson Holland, didn’t see it that way, calling a charge on Bell, sending the Tigers’ leading rebounder to the bench with four fouls.
Stoudamire exploded. The former NBA star could be heard saying. “C’mon, man!” followed by a ranching term.
Holland added on a technical.
That keyed a 21-7 run that put the game away.
• The most physical play came near the end, when Corey Kispert tried to add to 15-point lead with 90 seconds left on a breakaway layup. The Tigers’ Jonathan Salazar, in because Bell and Nigel Shadd had fouled out, challenged the shot, swung his arm, made hard contact with Kispert’s face and knocked the All-American to the floor.
Kispert took exception, words were exchanged and after video review, Salazar was ejected.
“That’s not a common foul,” Spanarkel understated, before adding, “that’s a pretty good shot across the side of the head.”
It was also the crowning blow in a game that featured many, though all less egregious.
What we saw …
• Another aspect of any tight Gonzaga WCC contest revolves around dealing with inconsistent officiating. With the game scheduled so late – it was announced Tuesday, as both teams were dealing with postponements due to opponents’ coronavirus issues – this one certainly had that aspect covered.
The best example of that came up early, in the form of two questionable charging calls that went Pacific’s way.
The first took away a Kispert bucket 7 minutes in, as Justin Moore slid under the GU leading scorer’s path en route to a layup but still earned the turnover. The second came a couple of minutes later as Suggs tried to cash in a steal and again found a Tiger in his path on another fastbreak layup.
Both calls were made by Donn Berdahl, an actor turned winemaker turned basketball official. Maybe he just appreciated great acting, something he probably didn’t see when making minor appearances on such shows as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”
But the calls certainly weren’t appreciated by Mark Few, whose comments aimed at Berdahl after the call on Suggs were audible thanks to CBS not using a crowd-noise track from the empty Spanos Center.
After the break ended following the second charge, Few could be seen talking with veteran official D.G. Nelson. As Nelson walked away, Few said something to an unseen official, seemingly Berdahl. Whatever Few said, he didn’t like the answer as he said, “No, it’s not.”
• In the midst of the Zags’ game- deciding second-half run, Kispert baited Moore into leaping to challenge a 3-pointer the GU wing wasn’t shooting. As Moore fell into him, Kispert threw up “a prayer” as Spanarkel called it, and it went in.
“But boy, was it a smart play,” Spanarkel added.
• Spanarkel and McCarthy, both with East Coast roots, struggle at times pronouncing Gonzaga without a “zog” sound coming through.
It bothers Zags fans no end. And it hasn’t ended even after 20 years in the spotlight.
• Though the game ran longer than its two-hour window, we still were presented a postgame interview with Few, one of the perks of having the game broadcast by the NCAA’s most financially beneficial partner.
What did Few think was the most important element of the comeback?
“The best thing we did is we tightened our belts and toughened up,” he told the broadcast crew, going on to praise the Tigers’ tough, physical play.
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