CHAMPAIGN, IL - DECEMBER 03: Elias Harris #20 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs grabs a rebound in front of Meyers Leonard #12 of the Illinois Fighting Illini at Assembly Hall on December 3, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Illinois defeated Gonzaga 82-75. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
My apologies for the lack of a game thread tonight. Had a few things come up this evening and wasn't able to get to a computer.
After a subpar first half tonight against the Portland Pilots, Gonzaga put together one of their best twenty minutes of the season as they rallied in the second half to escape with a win. Four Zags were in double figures tonight led by freshman Gary Bell Jr. who had a career high 18 points and continues to improve and play well in the clutch. Bell's freshman counterpart Kevin Pangos also was in double figures tonight as were Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. Harris also came down with ten rebounds tonight for yet another double double. With tonight's 74-62 victory, the Bulldogs moved to 17-3 on the season as a date with BYU sits on the horizon.
For as bad as the first half was from Gonzaga, their play in the second half was about as crisp as I have seen this team since the Xavier game on New Years Eve. Elias Harris in particular just continues to look better and better. Harris finished with his second straight double double and tonight's performance marks his eight straight game in double figures.
Harris' solid play has undoubtedly been bolstered by the play of Gonzaga's freshmen guards. Particularly in the second half, Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos were dialed in when it mattered the most. Bell made a number of plays and his ability to take care of the ball and not turn it over continues to improve. In addition to his 18 points, Bell ended the game with a couple of assists and rebounds and did not turn the ball over. Pangos struggled a bit with turnovers but still made a number of great plays in the second half and both play with the poise of upperclassmen.
Another factor that can't be overlooked is how much better this team meshes when its veterans are playing at a high level. Tonight this was no more evident than the spark Marquise Carter provided in the second half. For the first time in a long time, Marquise Carter was Gonzaga's best option at the small forward tonight. He was 2-2 from the floor with three rebounds and three assists. While the stats don't indicate anything above and beyond tonight for Carter, I thought this was his best game in months. He played great basketball and seemed to calm this team down in the second half and allowed the other guards to make plays for the rest of the team. Robert Sacre also had another solid game. The senior big man was 5-5 from the floor and 6-7 from the stripe.
One last interesting piece of this game was the rotation. A trimmed down eight man rotation is all Mark Few went with tonight. Mike Hart was the most noticeable missing Zag tonight as the staff only elected to bring Sam Dower, David Stockton, and Marquise Carter off the bench. Personally, I loved what the staff did. With Guy Landry Edi starting, Gonzaga is able to kick off the game with some defensive pressure and then guys like Stockton, Carter, and Dower can come in to slow things down on offense. Role guys like Monninghoff and Hart will provide quality minutes down the line but they are best as situational subs.