I can almost guarantee this shot went in.
In the past couple games, Steven Gray has been king of the hot start. He'd come out, bury a couple jumpers early, and then settle into the flow of the game and not really take over for the Bulldogs. All the while, fans and even coaches were saying that Gonzaga's talented junior guard had to come out of his shell and dominate. Tonight's 26 point performance might not be a sign of what we can expect on a consistent basis, but it is an indication of how good things can be with Gray. The team just runs better when he is excelling on offense. The main reason for this is because it really reduces the pressure on guys around him and we saw that tonight with some great "role filling" efforts by the rest of the guys tonight as Gonzaga absolutely obliterated Santa Clara tonight, winning 88-51 in Spokane.
The game started as a lot of recent WCC games began for Gonzaga, with Steven Gray getting on the board early and often. A three pointer here, some free throws there and it was a typical Zag start. Tonight was different for Gray though as he really made it his job to push the tempo on offense and create his own shot and take what the defense was giving him. Just like so many other teams in this conference, the defensive effort by Santa Clara was focused completely on Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris. They were constantly cheating over to those two the entire first half and Steven Gray, along with his 2007 recruiting class counterpart Robert Sacre, cashed in on this. The tandem scored 24 of Gonzaga's first 26 points and ended the game before it ever really got started.
Gray's full arsenal of offensive weapons was on hand tonight as he ended the night with a blistering 10-12 mark from the field. In the first 13 minutes alone Gray had hit a couple threes, a couple driving layups, and a fall away midrange jumper that was just outstanding. When he wasn't scoring, Robert Sacre was three-four feet removed from any Santa Clara defender and willing to get some points for himself. It was truly fascinating how wide open Santa Clara left Rob. At times he would turn around expecting contact and rush himself but had a great night for himself, finished with 11 points on 5-6 shooting. Sacre's ability in one-on-one situations are outstanding and this was a great way for him to build confidence as we are literally just around the corner from Las Vegas and the WCC Tournament.
We have consistently mentioned here on TSSF that Rob and Steven are the most vital pieces of the puzzle for a deep tournament run and if this kind of play continues, you have to be very confident as a Gonzaga fan.
It's hard to pull any lasting information from this game because Santa Clara just looked so inferior. They had absolutely no confidence, Kerry Keating was completely checked out of the game within the first bad call, and the result indicate that an unprepared and bad team visited the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Like I said in the intro, don't expect to see Steven Gray put on this kind of display each and every night. Don't expect Robert Sacre to be completely left alone on numerous occasions for easy baskets. Good teams understand what makes these two tick. The great news is that this kind of beatdown happened when Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris were mainly spectators. The dynamic combo only scored 16 combined points but did some other things well to fill up that stat sheet. The classic line for so many weeks now has been 'shut down Bouldin, shut down Harris, and Gonzaga is nothing.' Well, tonight you saw that Steven Gray is capable. You saw that Robert Sacre is capable, and I think you saw a bench that is ready to provide quality minutes.
The three Canadian transplants off the bench really stood out tonight for me for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I continue to be pleased with what Kelly Olynyk brings on a nightly basis. KO played 19 minutes tonight, scoring two points and grabbing seven rebounds. Olynyk was around the ball alot tonight and you can see the strides he is making in the low post. His defense is getting better as is his boxing out. When Kelly first arrived at Gonzaga he relied mainly on his height and leaping to get boards but now he is clearing out and really becoming a force. He added a couple assists including a perfectly placed alley-oop pass to Elias Harris. I was equally impressed with Bol Kong. Kong shot the ball nine times and this was exactly what I was hoping for. He connected on five of those attempts to finish with 12 points and looked as confident as I've seen him since Oklahoma. I think he is still a work in progress but tonight had to be huge for his mental mindset. Lastly, it's hard for me not to mention Mangisto Arop in a game recap. Manny continued his ever-so-solid play tonight with five boards and four points in 17 minutes played. I still maintain that Manny's overall offensive skill set is far undervalued and am so confident that in coming years he will really blossom into a complete scorer. His ceiling is ridiculously high.
I love not having to mention Demetri Goodson at the point guard play until very late in the recap. Four assists to zero turnovers is another solid stat line for Meech who I thought played another good game. He had a brief three minute period where he forced a couple of attempts but that was when the game was already out of reach. He made a couple of nice bounce passes into the post and once again facilitated the offense very well. I also must give recognition to G.J. Vilarino. It was great to see him get 11 minutes tonight and we saw a lot of that athleticism he is so well known for. He finished with six points and he looks like a very competent point guard with plenty of promise.
The key now is to continue to keep this team focused as we close out WCC play and head into the tournament. It is very easy for a team to get complacent after such a lopsided affair but it's our staffs job now to make sure they stay grounded. Performances like this from Steven Gray should not be so rare and it must be stressed that he's got to bring this kind of attitude more consistently on offense. He scores in so many ways that he can really be the toughest player to guard in a Gonzaga uniform if he chooses to be.
Next up is a revenge date with the San Francisco Dons at the McCarthey Athletic Center this Saturday. Tip off will be at 5 PM pacific.