All summer long we heard about the experienced back court of Gonzaga being the key to the season but after the Zags' near upset in East Lansing, all the attention went to Rob Sacre, Elias Harris, and co. Today's game, however, proved that when the pressure's on, the Zags are still going to go however far this veteran back court can take them. After Colorado came out in the first half and drained 7 of 11 three-pointers and forced Gonzaga into 10 turnovers, it looked as though today would be the day for this young team to come back to reality. The veteran guards of Gonzaga, led by Steven Gray, clawed back from an 11-point first half deficit and were able to outlast the Colorado Buffaloes, 76-72.
There aren't many words to describe the way today's game against Colorado started. We used words like embarrassing and pathetic often in our game thread and that is basically the only way you can label the first twenty minutes of competition. Give all the credit in the world to Colorado. Whatever Jeff Bzdelik and assistant coach Steve McClain are doing in Boulder is working. They ran the Princeton back cut offense to perfection in the first half and their ball movement was just spectacular. They consistently caught the Zags off guard and slow in rotation and made big basket after big basket. Defensively, the Buffs frustrated the heck out of the Bulldogs' big men all game. You had to think that Mark Few's game plan was to feed the post early and often and Colorado had it down pat. Whenever the ball went into the post, the Buffs crashed down on Rob or Elias and their guards went to work trying to strip the ball. They really took Elias out of the game in the first half and forced the Zags into ten first half turnovers.
When the second half began, Gonzaga found itself down 11 points and really struggled to gain any consistent momentum. Whenever they punched CU in the mouth and went on a min-run, Colorado just fought back and made plays. The difference of the game, however, was that Steven Gray was on our side. The smooth shooting junior guard took this team on his back and put together a complete game. Gray was 6-12 from the floor (4-7 from three) and connected on 11-14 free throws. His 27 points was a career high and the Zags needed every bit of it.
continue reading after the jump for more on Gonzaga's narrow victory...
Matt Bouldin's first half was one to forget. Five early points and four rebounds was the senior guard's first half line but he came out to play in the second half. He did exactly what you expect a senior leader to do in the second half and finished with 21 points thanks in large part to his 8-8 effort from the free throw line. He also dished out some great assists and took the reins in the second half to lead the team to a win.
In a game that I thought Rob Sacre would dominate, he struggled. He never really seemed to get into any sort of rhythm. Colorado did a great job of double teaming him in the post and his inexperience really showed up. I thought that he'd flex his muscle the duration of the second half when he came out of the gates scoring five straight but from there on, it was all guards all the time. Elias Harris didn't shoot the ball to well but he really played nicely when it mattered most. He had a huge drive to the basket when the game got tight in the second half and had an enormous block soon after. He only had eight points but his ten rebounds and other small plays really helped the team to victory.
The bench was just okay. This wasn't really a game for guys like Kelly Olynyk and Will Foster. With Colorado's small lineup, Kelly was mostly matched up against the small, quick Marcus Relphorde and was burnt up. He had a nice driving layup which really showed his scoring ability but it wasn't much to write home about for KO. The biggest spark was delivered by GJ Vilarino and Mangisto Arop. For the life of me, I don't really understand why Manny does not play more. Last game he came off the bench and had six rebounds and today he came right in and made a big bucket which tied the game up at 59. GJ Vilarino was quiet but had a nice driving layup which resulted in a foul and two converted lay ups. I like what both Manny and GJ bring off the bench. Both can play good defense are seem to be perfectly fine within their roles. I just hope we see a little more expanded role for each.
We knew there would be some games this season where the Zags would be tested and forced to battle when things aren't going their way. With this many young players, it was pretty clear that the Bulldogs were shocked by the Buffs early on with the way they were defending their post players. Thankfully, the nice first half of Steven Gray was enough to keep it close at halftime before the rest of the squad woke up and displayed a great amount of resilience.
With a performance like this, you just have to take the win and move on. Next up for the Zags is the winner of Arizona and Wisconsin to be played later today. Now that they've been woken up, I expect this team to build on today's comeback victory.