In college basketball, upsets are typically the storylines of the year. Whenever you check out national websites or watch SportsCenter, they always lead with the major upsets. It is what March Madness is built around. Sometimes, upsets are flukes and sometimes they are just indicative of a team's weakness being caught by another. Gonzaga's season series with San Francisco would have to be placed in the second half of the previous sentence. The Zags entered tonight's game with the Dons with revenge on their minds but once again had to desperately try and fight off an upset bid. Thanks to some home cooking and excellent bench play, the Bulldogs were able to walk away tonight with a 75-69 victory over San Francisco but it was every bit as nailbiting as their first match up.
We've grown extremely accustomed to seeing Gonzaga come out of the gates at a snails pace. Especially in WCC play against "lesser" opponents, Mark Few's club seems to always sleepwalk early and it has caught up with them a lot this season. Tonight was no different. Due in large part to poor early shooting and turnovers, the Dons were able to carry a lead well into the first half. Steven Gray had cooled off considerably from his huge night on Thursday against Santa Clara and Matt Bouldin was really nowhere to be found throughout on offense. The turning point of the first half came when Few entered Mangisto Arop, Bol Kong, and Kelly Olynyk in the game. Arop started the fun doing what he does best; scrapping around for loose balls and making things happen. He picked up two quick rebounds and a loose ball for a layup in about three minutes and continued his solid play.
Kong and Olynyk also provided some great minutes. Bol looked very comfortable out there tonight as he knocked down a three almost immediately and then added a great putback dunk off a Bouldin miss. He finished his night off with another short range jumper to give him seven points in 14 minutes. Fellow Canadian Kelly Olynyk is just a guy I love off the bench. His stat line is indicative of his evening as he went 2-4 from the floor with four rebounds and three assists. He obviously has plenty of room for improvement but he does a lot of things that catch your eye and make you really drool over his future at Gonzaga.
Gonzaga's post duo of Robert Sacre and Elias Harris combined for thirty points this evening and only missed six shots. The bad and somewhat disturbing news is that only Robert added numbers in the rebound column with five. None for Elias this evening. With that being said, I thought Harris really went into takeover mode in the second half. He scored seven straight points early in the second half to give the Zags a nine point lead and actually did a lot of his damage from the free throw stripe which was great to see. I think we've all come to know that he is the best when he can score in a variety of ways and that is exactly what happened tonight. In fact, the dagger for me was his three-pointer with about eight minutes left to give Gonzaga a ten point lead. Even though USF shrunk that lead down to three points late, I felt very confident.
Robert Sacre was very efficient once again. His 4-7 mark from the floor won't blow anyone's mind but there were a couple things I really loved about his game tonight. First off, his post moves in traffic looked a little more composed and fluid. There were times when he caught it, turned, and faced traffic and I had basically wrote the play off as a turnover but he was able to compose himself and slam it home. He's by no means perfect but he's made some great strides lately and I love the fact that we are running the offense through him many times down. The second thing I enjoyed about Rob tonight was his post defense. He is really getting to become a very solid shot blocker and defender in general. There were a few times when he was able to poke the ball away or step in front of a pass and that is really tough for a seven footer who is facing smaller teams. His confidence at this point appears to be very high and that is all we can ask for with March basically here.
Tonight's result obviously isn't what we really expected, but when you look back on it you probably should have. USF has no reason to fear the Gonzaga name anymore this year because they have stood up to them and taken them down with no excuses. I'll admit that I was very frustrated as were the members of the site in our game thread. It's hard for me to feel very comfortable at this point when Matt Bouldin only makes four jump shots all game. It has become painfully obvious that we will go as far as Bouldin takes us and it's tough to rely on a guy so much but those are the facts. There aren't many teams I am scared of when Matt is dishing the ball out, scoring when it is available, and doing all the little things but, at the same time, there are probably 150 teams that can beat us when he plays like he did tonight.
On the bright side, Gonzaga has captured their 10th straight West Coast Conference title and they share it with no one. It has really been an outstanding ride that is hopefully far from complete. We all had our expectations heading into the year and while many of them have been met and exceeded, it is my opinion that expectations can change in basketball. What I expected now has changed from what I expected after we beat Illinois in overtime and that changed from Maui and before the season began. The talent is there for a great run in March but the vulnerabilities are there for a very short stint in postseason play.