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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV Take: Another comfortable Gonzaga win in Las Vegas turned quickly as San Francisco leads tenacious comeback

March 7, 2022 Updated Mon., March 7, 2022 at 10:01 p.m.

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

Monday night from Las Vegas. Early March. The West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament semifinal. A Gonzaga win, right?

Yep, except the word “uncomfortable” could be inserted between “A” and “Gonzaga” and it would still be right as the Zags had to hold off undermanned USF, 81-71, as ESPN’s Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham described the action from the Orleans Arena.

What they saw …

• Right off the top, which began on ESPNews because, as per usual, the prior game ran long, Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham addressed San Francisco’s biggest issues: Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, who had scored 86 points in the two previous meetings. And that came with Yauhen Massalski on the court. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound all-conference performer was sitting out with a knee injury suffered against BYU in quarterfinals Saturday night. San Francisco seems a lock for an NCAA berth – ESPN’s bracket guru Joe Lunardi was sitting courtside and affirmed it in the first half – so it was an easy decision.

A decision that helped open the paint for top-ranked Gonzaga (25-3). And Timme (22 points on 9-of-13 shooting) and Holmgren (17 points on 7-of-10). And Andrew Nembhard, the controller, who was 8-of-12 for 17 points with nine assists.

The Bulldogs scored 52 points in the paint, something Farnham kept tallying as the second half wore on.

• That would indicate Gonzaga won comfortably. So would the Zags’ start, which offset the late USF run. They broke out to a 9-0 lead, with the eighth and ninth points coming on a spectacular dunk from Holmgren. The 7-foot freshman took a pass at the top of the key, attacked Zane Meeks with two right-handed dribbles, spun back to his left and elevated between Meeks and Volodymyr Markovetskyy, the bulky 7-2 transfer from Washington State, and flushed it with two hands.

“That was special,” Flemming understated. Or, as Farnham said, “Chet Holmgren, man.”

“What a start for the Gonzaga Bulldogs,” Farnham added. Two minutes later, Holmgren added a trailing 3-pointer and Farnham basically conceded the game to the Zags.

Flemming basically told him to slow his roll, with about 35 minutes yet to play. But Farnham was having none of it, especially after Holmgren blocked a couple early shots and threw down another dunk.

“He’s the total package,” Farnham said as the duo talked him up for the next few minutes and delved into his talent’s after next timeout.

By the way, one of the Dons (24-9) seemed to agree with Farnham’s assessment of the game’s outcome as Holmgren finished the second dunk.

The player was seen on the replay voicing what looked like a short cuss word as the dunk went through – then he lowered his head.

• But it was uncomfortable as Gonzaga made enough mistakes in the final 5 minutes and Khalil Shabazz made enough shots – he finished with 27 points – to draw the Dons within eight after trailing 71-47 with 8:45 left.

Throughout the rally, Farnham continually criticized the Zags’ tentative offense, as they tried to run the clock out. They did but not without some anxiety for Gonzaga fans.

What we saw …

• In the game 11 days ago in San Francisco, a Nembhard elbow exploded Shabazz’s nose. The Don senior guard was wearing a face mask Monday. But that didn’t stop him from sliding in front of Anton Watson with a little more than 5 minutes left in the first half.

Shabazz hit the floor as no whistle blew. Watson straddled him as Nembhard scored. Then the two got tangled up as Shabazz rose up into Watson. Words were exchanged. USF coach Todd Golden raced on the floor and shoved his player. Michael Irving, Chris Rastatter and David Hall, the three officials stopped the action. They examined the video. And examined the video.

Farnham had the right way to handle it: Get the players together, tell them to knock it off, shake hands and play. That didn’t happen. The trio assessed a technical foul on both, which basically is saying they couldn’t make a decision.

• That wasn’t the only fumble during this one. ESPN lost its feed with 1:10 to go in the opening half and the Zags up 42-24. A blue screen popped up, then an Allstate commercial. Finally, the studio crew with Seth Greenberg telling the world what Gonzaga has to do to win a national title for the 1,000th time.

The feed returned as the Zags were walking off the court at halftime, leading 47-27. If you are still wondering, you missed a jumper from Rasir Bolton, a 3-pointer from USF’s Julian Rishwain and a matching 3-pointer from Bolton.

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