What a fitting end to an insanely frustrating West Coast Conference season.
Just like so many times during regular season play, Gonzaga failed to rise to the occasion and laid an egg with much on the line. That's really what it comes down to. If you watched the game on TV or were unfortunate enough to be in the arena tonight, there was absolutely no question which team was more prepared and up for tonight's game. Gonzaga came out flat tonight at the Orlenas and wound up getting pummeled by the Gaels of Saint Mary's by a score of 81-62.
It's really easy to write off this game by saying "Well, Saint Mary's had to win whereas Gonzaga was already in the tourney". But we all know that this excuse really holds no water when you look at what the Zags had on the line. Playing in Spokane, getting a protected seed, etc etc were all things Mark Few and his club had in their sights tonight but apparently playing a minute away from campus is just not of importance.
The thing which also really bugs me about the way Gonzaga lost tonight is how it all happened. The fact that Omar Samhan only had nine points speaks volumes about the way Robert Sacre played but the fact that Mickey McConnell and Ben Allen combined for 46 points absolutely makes me sick. All you can do here is tip your hat to Randy Bennett who obviously saw the huge hole in Gonzaga's defensive rotation and exposed it with some great drive and kick out plays to get his hot players the basketball. It was just a simple pick and roll with a set shooter waiting on the perimeter if the drive failed and Allen and McConnell connected time and time again to absolutely demolish the Zags. Our defense never changed and there offensive direction never did either. Robert Sacre had one of his best defensive performances ever tonight but it was clear Saint Mary's was perfectly fine with relying on someone other than their star center.All season long I have felt like a broken record in these recaps. That's either because A) I'm stubborn or B) It's pretty obvious what makes this team tick. There are three players that must be the focal points and they are all in different capacities. First of all, Elias Harris is Gonzaga's best and most dangerous player on offense. Gonzaga must get him the ball in situations where he can use his athletic ability in space. Space. Space. Space. That's an interesting concept. For the first half of the season, we were delighted with clear out plays designed around Harris to get into the lane, make a move, and finish. If it wasn't there, we were seeing him come around back screens for alley-oops or on screen and roll plays. Something changed in conference play and our dependence on Elias suddenly shifted to forcing the pass into Robert Sacre or running the ball specifically through Matt or Steven. We saw a few glimpses of plays to Elias tonight but that was after 30-35 minutes of time had elapsed. For the past 15-20 games I just don't get why our staff can't figure out that the ball must run through Harris each and every time. This team hits another level when he is firing on all cylinders and there were a few plays where you could see he had the intensity but just couldn't get consistent touches.
Regarding Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray. Bouldin is probably Gonzaga's best all-around player because he can bring so much to this club. He's ridiculously inefficient, however, when he thinks he is this team's best scoring option. I'd rather see Matt have eight assists over 18 points because he is the Zags' primary distributor. It serves this team nothing when he jacks up mid-range shots with 25 seconds left in the shot clock. His stat line every game should be 12 points, seven assists, and six rebounds because that is what an all-around player like him should do.
The reason Matt should defer on offense sometimes is because he has a player like Steven Gray roaming the backcourt with him. I thought Gray had another terrific game but the fact that he only had two offensive attempts in the first half is utterly inexcusable. We saw last night and tonight that he is a total scorer who works in a variety of ways but he's got to have the ball in his hands. I have no doubt in my mind that Gray and Elias can and will be one of the best inside out combos next season provided that Demetri Goodson shows the ability to become the primary distributor once Matt leaves. These two guys can really score from anywhere on the court and already have me salivating for next season.
That's how Gonzaga breaks down in my opinion. It's really, really simple. The last thing that is really hard to quantify and breakdown is just simple motivation. You might not look at this game tomorrow and view it as an embarrassing loss but if you watched that second half, it was painfully obvious and embarrassing that this team just has no leadership. I made a comment in our game thread that I miss Jeremy Pargo like crazy this year and it's the absolute truth. Whether you like him as a player or didn't, it is guys like Pargo that can will a team to win and is willing to throw a club on their back if they have to. We didn't always come out victorious with Jeremy leading but at least he had the mental make-up and grit to lead this team. We don't have that this year. I do see some of it in some of the guys that will be leading next season but it is such a shame to see what appears to be a bunch of great talent get wiped out because they can't get up during the most crucial times.
Well, this appears to have taken on more of a rant than a recap! Gonzaga now has a long, long break and probably a long, long flight in between now and their next time on the hardwood. Maybe rest is what this team needs but if I was Mark Few I would practice the hell out of these kids to try and inspire some kind of energy out of these guys. Otherwise, it is going to be a very, very, quick March and a long offseason.