Ben Gregg makes four 3’s off Gonzaga bench, helps lift Bulldogs to semifinal win over USF
March 6, 2023 Updated Tue., March 7, 2023 at 12:06 a.m.
LAS VEGAS – Ben Gregg has made a variety of clutch shots and plays off Gonzaga’s bench during a breakout season of sorts for the reserve forward.
San Francisco still took its chances on Monday night, leaving Gregg open on the perimeter more times than not during a West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal game at the Orleans Arena.
The strategy paid off – for the Zags, not the Dons – as Gregg buried a career-high four 3-pointers, scoring 12 points off the bench in an 83-74 Gonzaga victory that sent the second-seeded Bulldogs to the WCC championship game.
“Our whole coaching staff and my teammates give me so much confidence,” Gregg said. “Whenever I miss a shot, they tell me the next shot’s going in, shoot it again and that helps so much. Having those guys have my back, if I miss a shot make sure to shoot the next one for sure and have confidence.”
Gregg, who’d hit two 3-pointers in four different games this season, doubled his previous career high in his WCC Tournament debut. The sophomore who enrolled at Gonzaga midway through the 2020-21 season also had two rebounds, finishing plus-2 in 16 minutes off Mark Few’s bench.
“I’d be remiss not to add Ben, came in and gave us great minutes and really picked us up,” the Gonzaga coach said. “Not only hitting big shots, but just playing hard and playing with some fire and I think that really got us going.”
The Dons deployed a defensive strategy designed to limit Drew Timme’s scoring opportunities in the paint. More often than not, that meant sagging off Gonzaga’s big men when they stepped behind the 3-point line.
Gregg, whose six 3-point attempts were also a season-high, accounted for four of the team’s 11 3-point makes while starting forward Anton Watson nearly doubled his career-high in attempts, also trying six of his own and making two of those. Watson’s previous career-high for 3-point attempts was four in a game against the Dons earlier this season.
Gonzaga’s offense is already the nation’s most potent according to a variety of metrics, but Monday’s semifinal game demonstrated what the Bulldogs are capable when their big man can pop out and knock down 3-pointers.
“I think it’s huge, especially playing against a team like San Francisco,” guard Rasir Bolton said. “They’ll sag off, kind of dare them to shoot some 3’s. We have all the confidence in the world in them, they work on their game every day and it showed tonight. I think it was great for them and I think it’s a big confidence boost going into tomorrow.”
Gregg entered the conference tournament making 3-pointers at a 35% clip, but the sophomore improved that to 38% by making 66% of his long-range attempts on Monday.
Watson isn’t making his 3’s with the same efficiency, but the Gonzaga Prep product has become more of a perimeter shooting threat this season. Watson’s made 13 3-pointers this season after combining to make nine his first three years with the Zags.
“Hopefully they thought we were going to miss our shots,” Gregg said. “But we know what we can do, we know what we’re capable of, we know we can make those shots and tonight we did.”
Gregg earned a rotation role during Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule, stringing together a few impressive games at the Phil Knight Legacy event in his hometown of Portland. The Clackamas High graduate has given the Zags a spark off the bench – occasionally with his defense, occasionally with rebounding and occasionally with the ability to stretch the floor as a 3-point threat.
“I love it, honestly Ben reminds me of myself a lot,” Watson said. “Just playing the role he has this year, I just love it. Every time we hit a 3 we hype each other up, so it’s love between me and Ben.”
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