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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Ryan Nembhard’s latest feat, defensive concerns and Anton Watson’s technical

Gonzaga guard Ryan Nembhard drives against Pacific guard Moe Odum during the second half of Saturday's West Coast Conference game at McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga won 102-76.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

An upcoming stretch of West Coast Conference games will determine whether Gonzaga can peak at the right time, pick up a few more Quad 1 victories, clinch a top-two seed at the league tournament and make a resounding statement to the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Gonzaga’s offense certainly appears to be trending in the right direction as the Bulldogs prepare to enter the final two weeks of the regular season.

Since scoring just 62 points in a home loss to Saint Mary’s, the Bulldogs have scored at least 90 in three of their last four games while averaging 94.5 points per game over a four-game stretch against Portland, Kentucky, Loyola Marymount and Pacific.

The offense was humming once again during Gonzaga’s 102-76 win over Pacific on Saturday at McCarthey Athletic Center.

Ryan Nembhard, the junior point guard who makes the Zags go, gets a second look in our day-after rewind. We also review GU’s defense, which slipped some last week against LMU and Pacific, and get Anton Watson’s thoughts on the technical foul given to the senior forward on Saturday.

On point

With older brother Andrew on hand at the Kennel, Ryan accomplished something neither Nembhard brother managed to do as a college player prior to Saturday’s game.

After an 11-assist game for Gonzaga two days earlier at LMU, Nembhard manufactured 10 more against Pacific, making him the first GU player since Derek Raivio to register double-digit assists in consecutive games. Raivio dished out 11 versus Portland State and 13 versus Montana during the first two games of the 2004-05 season.

Nembhard has delivered 36 assists with only eight turnovers in Gonzaga’s last four games and has averaged 12.5 points during that stretch, including 34 in the last two.

Nembhard hasn’t necessarily looked uncomfortable at any point during his first season at Gonzaga, but the Creighton transfer is also operating at a higher level than he did three months ago, indicating he has a much better grasp of Mark Few’s system, not to mention a better understanding of his teammates and their offensive tendencies.

“I just think we’re flowing offensively … we’re getting better and better offensively,” Nembhard said. “So I’m just making simple reads out there, I’m just seeing everything a little bit slower, the game’s kind of slowing down for me. We’re just flowing really well right now at this point of the year.”

Defensive slippage

Gonzaga’s high-performing offense has given its defense some wiggle room, but the Bulldogs are hoping to clean things up at that end before facing the teams responsible for both of their WCC losses, along with a quality San Francisco team, over the next 14 days.

LMU exceeded its season scoring average against Gonzaga on Thursday, despite having just six scholarship players available for a 91-74 loss to the Bulldogs at Gersten Pavilion. The Lions were on track to score 85-90 points after reaching 46 at halftime, but the Zags tightened things up late, allowing three points in the final 8 minutes, 21 seconds.

LMU still made 52% from the field – its second-highest percentage against a DI opponent this season – and the Lions shot a season-high 55% from the 3-point line.

Averaging a WCC-low 65.2 points per game, Pacific had its fourth-highest output in a conference game Saturday night and shot a season-high 91% from the free throw line, making 21 of 23.

In each of the games last week, Gonzaga surrendered a season-high point total to an opposing player, allowing LMU’s Will Johnston to erupt for 33 points on Thursday before Pacific reserve Nick Blake scored 20 on Saturday. Both players came into those games averaging single digits.

“I think just man-to-man defense, just one on one, I feel like dudes are getting to the cup too easy,” Watson said. “Even myself, I’ve got to get back to my ways of being kind of aggressive and nasty on that end and just taking it as disrespectful if they score on you. Like a layup or something.

“We’ve got to make every shot tough, so I think just having that mentality going into the next couple games will be good for us, but we’ve got to change something on that end.”

Multiple WCC teams use smaller lineups, employing four guards and one big man. That can make it difficult to combat GU when the Bulldogs are playing offense, but occasionally gives them the upper-hand at the other end of the floor.

“We’re playing a lot of teams that play four guards and spread us out and (isolate) us. We play two bigs, so that’s hard,” Few said. “We’re trying to be in the gaps. At times they hit a couple tough shots, so that skews the numbers a little bit, but other times we’re not quite finishing off the plays.

“We’ve just got to try and continue to get better and better out here. Start of the game was good and even start of the half was good, second half.”

Questionable T

Watson expected to hear the sound of a whistle after finishing a layup through contact in the second half.

The Gonzaga forward got a whistle, just not the one he was anticipating.

Rather than a defensive foul on Pacific’s Judson Martindale, who bumped Watson on the way to the basket, officials signaled for a technical foul on the Gonzaga player.

What did Watson do to warrant the call?

“I said ‘and-one’,” Watson told reporters afterward. “No cuss words, nothing. ‘And-one.’ ”

Fortunately, there weren’t any major repercussions for Gonzaga. Martindale’s technical free throw trimmed a 17-point Zag lead to 16 points with 10 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the game.

Watson could remember receiving only one other technical foul during his college career, which has spanned five seasons and 142 games.

“I think I got one last year, but yeah, I think it’s good I got it this game and not in a big game,” Watson said. “So yeah, I’ll take that one. You can ask Martindale too. He said it was kind of weak.”