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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘Gotta be tougher’: Gonzaga balancing competitive practices with rest before WCC Tournament

UPDATED: Tue., March 1, 2022

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton shot straight with three 3-pointers and a team-leading 16 points in Saturday’s loss to Saint Mary’s. Nothing changed during postgame interviews.

Bolton didn’t sugarcoat the factors that led to the upset or his thoughts on what the top-ranked Zags should focus on during an extended break before Monday’s semifinals at the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.

“We just gotta be tougher,” the senior guard said. “They out-toughed us. They were definitely the tougher team, played harder, energy, momentum, the whole thing.

“We gotta get back in the lab, be who we are, become tougher as a team and hopefully this never happens again.”

Head coach Mark Few echoed Bolton’s sentiments, saying, “When you’re the most aggressive team and the most physical team, probably nine times out of 10 you’re going to win the ball game.”

It should make for an interesting week of practice before the team departs for Las Vegas this weekend. Bolton anticipated physical, competitive practices after Saturday’s loss.

“I think this loss, we had a little win streak going, so it’s kind of a slap of reality to us,” he said. “We’re not all we think we are. We have to prove that we’re No. 1 every night.”

Asked if the loss and a week of practice could help Gonzaga regain its edge, Bolton responded, “For sure.”

Few knows future opponents – in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament – will study the videotape and copy elements of the Gaels’ game plan.

“We obviously have to watch it and learn from it,” Few said. “Make sure we come out and don’t let another team physically outplay us, play harder than us and play with more purpose. We just have to clean up some of our reads and our execution and be a little bit tougher.”

Every season is different, requiring Gonzaga to adjust its approach to the typical eight-day break following its regular-season finale. The Zags have another eight- to nine-day span between the WCC and NCAA tournaments.

The Zags will probably blend spirited drills this week with time off to hit the refresh button after the grind of a 3½-month regular season. Gonzaga’s longest in-season break was roughly five days over the Christmas holiday, quickly followed by COVID-19 pauses that created a 10-day gap before the Zags opened WCC play Jan. 8.

The Bulldogs typically spends the early portion of this week self-scouting, working on themselves and perhaps adding a few new wrinkles at both ends of the court, particularly since the Zags won’t learn their semifinal opponent until Saturday night.

Gonzaga has four possible foes, but if the seeding holds up in earlier rounds the opponent would be fourth-seeded San Francisco. Fifth-seeded BYU takes on the winner of Thursday’s No. 8 Loyola Marymount/No. 9 Pacific contest.

This will be the first time the Zags enter the conference tournament following a loss since 2017 when BYU pulled off a 79-71 upset at the McCarthey Athletic Center to end GU’s bid for a perfect regular season.

“Our goals were No. 1, win the league, two, win the WCC Tournament and three, getting to Phoenix (site of the Final Four),” Zags point guard Nigel Williams-Goss said after the 2017 setback. “Going undefeated was icing on the cake.

“But I definitely think winning can mask some smaller issues. There have been games we haven’t shot free throws well or boxed out textbook, but because maybe we were up by a lot it didn’t hurt us. In a close game, you have to be detailed and locked into all the small areas. In that sense, it was good.”

Last year’s Zags finished 24-0 in the regular season but still had a checklist at practices prior to the WCC Tournament.

“It’s a good period of rest for all of us and kind of recharge the batteries for the big final push,” then senior Corey Kispert said. “Really, we have to look in the mirror and nitpick our game personally and as a team. We have to get better on the glass, rebounding, get better defensively as a team, just little things here and there.

“It’s really nice because practices aren’t really focused on the other team and what they do. It’s all about us. It leads to a lot of competition.”

The current Zags can expect a similar approach.

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