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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Anton Watson’s rebounding efforts help ‘focused’ Zags get back on track vs. Pacific

Jan. 22, 2023 Updated Sun., Jan. 22, 2023 at 7:44 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Anton Watson drives to the hoop against the Pacific Tigers on Saturday at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, California.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Anton Watson drives to the hoop against the Pacific Tigers on Saturday at the Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, California. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

STOCKTON, Calif. – Whether they’re seeking the information themselves, or made aware of it via a third party, college basketball players normally don’t have to look far to find opinions from the general public.

The commentary on Gonzaga’s play over the last three weeks seemed to reach a crescendo after the sixth-ranked Bulldogs lost to Loyola Marymount on Thursday, snapping the country’s longest home win streak.

The Zags shook off their first loss since Dec. 2 to scrape out a 99-90 road win on Saturday at Pacific, improving their record to 17-4, 6-1 in the West Coast Conference play and 4-1 in true road games.

“It happens, we’ve been in this position before, we’ve lost games,” Gonzaga senior forward Drew Timme said. “We know, you don’t need to say nothing. I will say, it’s always nice checking the receipts of Twitter about all the Zag people that want to talk about us when we lose. It’s duly noted.”

We rewind another gutsy second-half road performance from Gonzaga, which leaned heavily on contributions from the starting frontcourt to avoid another upset loss in WCC play.

Short memory

In one regard, Gonzaga’s coaching staff may have preferred a longer window between games to address and correct the issues that led to Thursday’s home loss to LMU.

But a quick turnaround can also have its advantages.

“You can’t do much on the floor after you get out of there at 9:30, 10 at night or whatever, then you’re traveling the next day and all that,” Gonzaga Mark Few said. “It’s just about a happy medium of getting your guys the scouting plan and moving on to the next game and all that.”

Coaches in particular tend to overanalyze film, so the 48-hour period between Thursday and Saturday games in the WCC can be as beneficial for Few’s staff as it is for players who are often urged to maintain a short memory.

“Us coaches, I think we always do spend too much time on it,” Few said, “because it’s just on you and you’re frustrated and you want to work out those mistakes right then and there, but I’ve come to find as I’ve gotten older you’ve just got to move on and win the next one.”

The Zags watched a handful of impressive streaks end on Thursday, but extended a few others on Saturday. Gonzaga hasn’t lost back-to-back games since the 2018-19 season (Tennessee/North Carolina) and the Bulldogs haven’t lost consecutive games in conference play since 2013-14 (BYU/San Diego).

Senior forward Anton Watson described Gonzaga’s mentality after Thursday’s loss as “definitely focused.”

“No one likes losing like that especially at home and it’s just a new mentality for all the guys on the team,” he said, “and it’s going to be like that the rest of the season so we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game every single game.”

Double-double trouble

In some ways, Timme’s takeover in the second half overshadowed a magnificent performance from his frontcourt mate, Watson, who registered his third double-double of this season. Watson scored 16 points and tied his career-high for total rebounds (13) and offensive rebounds (6).

“They played with kind of a small lineup and their five is not really a traditional five, he’s kind of more like a guard type,” Watson said. “So I kind of knew we were going to be on the offensive boards all night, defensive boards, and that’s kind of my mentality coming into this game is just crashing the boards the whole game and that led to a lot of offensive points and free throws.”

Coaches pressed Gonzaga players to improve their efforts on the glass after being outrebounded 38-29 by LMU two days earlier. Watson took that message to heart, pulling down three offensive rebounds inside the first two minutes of Saturday’s game.

“We really talked to them about, especially if they do go small we’ve got to try to get in there and pound them on the glass,” Few said. “I thought Anton was the one guy that listened to that. Then I tried to go small in the second half, we took him out and they started hurting us on the glass again, so we had to get him back in there.”

Timme’s career-high 38-point performance – including 24 points and 20 straight GU points in the second half – moved him closer to Frank Burgess’ school scoring record of 2,196 points.

The senior forward has a chance to become the third player in GU history to reach 2,000 points, needing 16 in Saturday’s game at Portland to reach another career milestone.

Timme said he was motivated to turn things around after shooting 5 for 12 from the field and committing four turnovers in the loss to LMU. He opened 1 from 6 in that game, finishing the first half with more turnovers (3) than points (2).

“That one hurt me the other night,” he said, “but it’s all about responding and not letting it happen again.”

Strawther responds

Julian Strawther tweaked his ankle on a Euro step move in the first half, checking out of the game at the eight-minute mark before heading immediately to the training table.

Strawther spent a few minutes with head athletic trainer Travis Knight, who wrapped the junior’s right ankle in tape. Strawther tested the ankle out on the stationary bike next to Gonzaga’s bench and returned to the game with 5 minutes, 51 seconds left in the first half.

The Gonzaga wing knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc three seconds after returning to the floor and knocked down two more shots before the half ended.

“I think it was on that Euro move,” Few said. “We’ll see, I’m sure it won’t feel good tomorrow but it happened in the first half so he played the rest of the game.”

In one of his worst outings of the year, Strawther finished 1 of 8 from the field and 1 of 5 from 3-point range in the one-point loss to LMU. The Las Vegas native rebounded to score 15 points on 6 of 11 from the field and 3 of 5 from distance on Saturday. He also had five rebounds, matching Timme for second-most on the team.

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