There are many among the college basketball self-proclaimed intelligentsia who downgrade Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference competition. A simple argument made by simple minds, disproved by just watching games such as the Bulldogs’ 89-73 victory at the University of San Francisco’s War Memorial gym.
A filled-to-the-rafters ancient facility. Senior Night. Most whistles going the home team’s way, especially early. And a highly motivated, well-drilled physical opponent bent on controlling the tempo – and making contact.
None of it derailed the nation’s No. 1 team. Nor did it escape the notice of the ESPN2 broadcast crew, consisting of neighborhood resident Dave Flemming on the play-by-play, Bay Area native Sean Farnham with the analysis and Molly McGrath, whose mother was once a USF cheerleader, on the sidelines.
What they saw …
Farnham had a recipe for the Dons (22-8 overall, 9-5 WCC) to get a win. Though the list of ingredients kept growing.
“For San Francisco to pull off the upset, they are going to have to knock down their perimeter shot,” Farnham said after the Dons’ first 3-pointer. “They love the 3-point shot.”
He then added the element of ball security and the Dons’ stars “have to step up and show out.”
USF was 11 of 22 from beyond the arc. It had just 11 turnovers. But senior guards Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz combined for just 31 points. That total paled in comparison to what Chet Holmgren (21 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks) and Drew Timme (20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) did for the Zags (24-2, 17-0).
What we saw …
• Rick O’Neill is part of college basketball officiating royalty, as dad Tom Sr. was a fixture on Big Ten games (and worked numerous NCAA Tournament games) for years. And Rick’s brothers Tom Jr. and Michael are also Division I officials. The second-generation trio actually worked a game together a few years ago, becoming the first brothers to do such.
But O’Neill certainly wasn’t part of a kingly crew Thursday night. There were numerous examples of the jester-like quality of their work in the first half.
With 5 minutes, 11 seconds left in the first half, Julian Strawther flew out at the Dons’ Gabe Stefanini, who had faked a 3-point attempt from the right wing.
Strawther did what most players are taught, jumping to the shooter’s off-hand, flying through the air to harass but to minimize the chance at contact. Except Stefanini, after faking, dribbled left, right under the already-in-the-air Strawther.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s leg contacted Stefanini’s shoulder, causing Strawther to completely flip and land on his back. Kevin Brill called him for a foul, even though he didn’t invade Stefanini’s space in any way. In fact, it was Stefanini whose actions caused the contact.
Strawther left the court immediately, covered his head in a towel and sat with a trainer. He returned a couple of minutes later.
“That is a dangerous fall,” Farnham said.
“Part of might just be he was spooked a little bit there,” Flemming noticed. “He may need a minute just to kind of gather himself.”
Right after Strawther returned, Timme took a short shot and was obviously fouled by Bouyea. Twice on the other end, he motioned to Randy McCall about the ignored elbow tap. So what did McCall do? He called a touch foul on Timme.
And when Timme was fouled by Yauhen Massalski on another short shot a couple of minutes later, McCall let it go. Point made. Many points, actually.
USF had an 11-1 edge on free-throw attempts in the first half.
• The physical play continued in the second half, reaching a crescendo with 4:32 left when Andrew Nembhard was trapped at halfcourt. Trying to wrest free of Shabazz’s grab, Nembhard’s high elbow clipped Shabazz’s nose, leading to the senior guard collapsing on the floor and bleeding profusely.
No foul was called originally. But a flagrant was after a replay review, though the Dons, who were within 11 at one point in the final minutes, missed both free throws.
Despite USF fouling late, the Dons still shot four more free throws overall.
• We may have found some aspect of basketball in which Farnham isn’t an expert, if you include mustache styles as a part of basketball. When it comes to Timme, we probably can all agree it is.
Farnham used the term “handlebars” in describing Timme’s latest mustache style prior to the game. That is incorrect, even if Timme might use it as well. The traditional term of the look Timme was sporting might be considered culturally insensitive, but it isn’t a handlebar.
• Former Washington State center Volodymyr Markovetskyy made a short second-half appearance. That allowed Farnham and Flemming to talk about his family, which is still in war-ravaged Ukraine.
Markovetskyy told Farnham he didn’t sleep much the night before the game, worried about what was happening at home.