The Pac-12 Conference may be going away before summer returns, but Gonzaga is making sure it gets its matchups in before the conference breaks into four pieces.
Saturday night in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena, the Zags played their second Pac-12 opponent in 10 days and came away with their second win, 89-76 over USC on ESPN. It was also GU’s 16th consecutive win against the West Coast’s Power Five conference, a streak it will try to extend Saturday at Washington.
The Legends of Basketball Las Vegas Invitational contest was brought to us by Roxy Bernstein and Jay Williams, the former Duke guard whose pronunciation of Gonzaga occasionally showed his East Coast roots.
What they saw …
• Williams started the game praising the 5-1 Zags. And he never really stopped.
“Crazy to think Gonzaga is actually underrated,” Williams said as Gonzaga broke out to a 15-2 lead.
“I am thoroughly impressed with Mark Few’s team this year,” Williams said as GU’s lead reached 15 in the second half.
“I know they are ranked 11th in the country, but it feels like they are an underdog. This team has something to prove.”
Bernstein then chimed in with Saint Mary’s being picked to win the West Coast Conference. “You wonder if Gonzaga and Mark Few are using that for a little motivation.”
Finally, as the game wound down, Williams decided to look ahead.
“Hey, Gonzaga is going to be a problem at the end of the year,” Williams said.
• He was also impressed by the USC (5-3) guards, the nation’s top recruit, Isaiah Collier, and veteran Boogie Ellis, though he spent much of the second half picking apart the Trojans’ offensive game plan, their lack of full-court pressure and, most important, their lack of pride on the defensive end.
“The Zags are just taking the life out of USC,” he said before using a Gonzaga possession to point out how lifeless the Trojans’ defense was.
A couple of possessions later, he contrasted that to how the Bulldogs were flying around on that end, praising Graham Ike and Ben Gregg for the effort.
“That’s what you need from your leaders,” he said.
What we saw …
• Often when watching a college basketball game, you’ll see teams send two defenders at a big posting up down low. In this one, Gonzaga used the defensive plan on USC’s 6-foot-5 freshman guard Collier and, to a lesser degree, his running mate, 6-3 senior Ellis.
The idea was simple. Don’t let the physically dominant guard go to work against a less-stout Bulldog down low. It worked, though Collier, who came in averaging 17.7 points a game, only finished with 14. Though he did add six assists, many of them out of the double team.
“Pretty much all his points have come in the paint,” Williams said. “But he had the vision right there on the post up. He can finish through traffic. Look, he’s wearing No. 1 because he’s probably going to be the first pick in the draft.”
Ellis was the definition of a volume shooter, taking 21 shots to get his 28 points.
That’s better than his season average of 21.5, but many came after the game was decided.
While Williams was explaining Collier’s strengths and weaknesses, an alert for an incident in Seattle interrupted the broadcast, so we missed most of it.
• While USC relied on its two star guards, the Zags were more balanced, with six players scoring in double figures, led by Dusty Stromer and Ryan Nembhard’s 15 each.
Though Ike was a handful for the Trojan bigs.
“Graham Ike absolutely went off,” Williams said at halftime, when Ike had 10 points, before explaining how. “USC did not do a good job of trying to push Ike off the block.”
The transfer from Wyoming not only finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, he also imposed his will, physically and verbally, inside on both ends.
“Get that … out of here,” Ike said to Collier after blocking his shot with 18 minutes left.
• We saw more video of Bronny James, sitting on the USC bench, then we did, seemingly, of GU freshman Dusty Stromer, who scored a career-high 12 points.
The son of LeBron has yet to play for the Trojans but, as most college basketball fans know, he suffered a cardiac issue over the summer and was just recently cleared to return to practice.
The amount of time Williams and Bernstein spent talking about his impact on the Trojans, his dad’s intent to come to his first game and other James-centric comments, was surprisingly high.