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Gonzaga Basketball

Dave Boling: Zags don’t pout after loss to Purdue, rise early for inspired win over Syracuse

By Dave Boling The Spokesman-Review

HONOLULU – Mark Few had roughly 15 to 16 hours between a disheartening loss to Purdue and the tipoff of his Gonzaga Bulldogs’ game against Syracuse in Tuesday’s breakfast bracket of the Maui Invitational.

Time to study films or game plans? Briefly.

Workout? Practice shooting? Not really.

Instead, he sent his players to the hotel pool, to stretch and soothe their tired muscles, and he made certain they stayed hydrated.

And the rest of the time, he coached their mindset.

“It’s a mental thing,” Few said. “From when they walked into the locker room yesterday after the Purdue thing, I was on them, ‘Hey, it’s over, it’s a quick turnaround.’ ”

As he drills his teams to forget the last play during games and focus only on the next, he takes the same approach with back-to-back games.

“I was harping on that,” he said. “I told them that the team that pouts the least is the team that wins games like this (losers’ bracket pairings).”

Coaching being psychotherapy with a whistle, clear and simple messaging is crucial to effective attitude adjustment.

And the imperative: “Don’t pout!” is as pointed as one can get.

“I told them it’s not going to be an X and O thing, it’s more about the emotional and mental part of it,” Few said.

You’ll notice that he didn’t even affix the word “loss” or “defeat” to Monday’s contest, calling it, instead, the “Purdue thing.”

The Zags’ frame of mind was about as positive as could be imagined for such an early tipoff. They played fast and with force, confidence and aggressiveness.

Showing no hangover from the second-half collapse against the No. 2-ranked Boilermakers on Monday, they put together a 40-minute, full-team display of sound hoops.

Syracuse was not the level of competition as Purdue. But in both games this week, the Zags’ defense was sound, a promising development for this early in the season.

The offense, however, still committed 18 turnovers, even more than the 14 that vexed Few after the Purdue “thing.” When the turnover total was mentioned to Few in his postgame interview, he appeared on the verge of violating his own mandate against pouting.

But the team’s toughness, Few said, was illustrated by the overwhelming rebounding total (GU 48, Syracuse 28). And after the 0-for-13 second-half 3-point-shooting debacle against Purdue, Tuesday’s 35% mark from behind the arc was far more palatable.

Gonzaga forward Anton Watson, center, guards Syracuse forward Chris Bell at the rim during the second half Tuesday at the Maui Invitational at SimpliFi Arena in Honolulu. Gonzaga won 76-57.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Anton Watson, center, guards Syracuse forward Chris Bell at the rim during the second half Tuesday at the Maui Invitational at SimpliFi Arena in Honolulu. Gonzaga won 76-57. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Maybe the best example of the Zags’ approach to Tuesday’s game was their response to Syracuse’s second-half challenge, when the Orange closed what had been a comfortable GU lead to six points.

When Purdue began pulling away on Monday, the Zags seemed helpless to stop its surge. But when this game got tight, practically every Zag stepped it up.

Guard Nolan Hickman scored on a beautiful lane drive and then netted a clutch 3 on his way to a team-high 19 points.

Ben Gregg added a deep corner 3 a minute later and Ryan Nembhard scored off a couple of fastbreaks. Freshman Braden Huff hit three 3-pointers in the game, and, especially in the first half, Graham Ike and Anton Watson were powerful forces in the lane. Ike finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Watson with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

The stats are significant indicators of the Zags’ superiority. And the spirited play an example of their resilience.

Now 3-1, this was a good win for the Zags, who next have the chance to add to the string of epic duels in their series with UCLA. The game will be much later in the day, which will give the Zags plenty of time to prepare, especially since they won’t have to waste any of it pouting.