After dropping back-to-back games against Big Ten opponents in early December, Gonzaga fans were reeling a bit about their 2011-12 Zags. In those two losses against Illinois and Michigan State, Sam Dower averaged 13.5 minutes and 3.5 points. In fact, leading up to that game, the promising sophomore power forward only had one game where he scored in double figures and that came against lowly Western Michigan. Since those two losses, however, Dower has come alive. In Gonzaga's last eight games, all wins, Dower has been in double figures six times and the two times he wasn't in double digits...he scored nine points. For Sam, it isn't just that he is scoring a bunch of points, it is that he has been incredibly efficient. He hasn't shot below 50% from the floor since that Michigan State loss and is doing it all for the Zags over the last eight games.
While Dower hasn't been the sole reason for the Bulldogs' recent success, you would be hard pressed to find someone that has had more of an impact. With Dower playing at a high level, Gonzaga truly has one of the top front lines in the nation. While Rob Sacre and Elias Harris have their own solid skill set, neither player comes close to Dower in terms of low post scoring ability. If Sam can keep this up, the two-loss Zags have a very promising outlook as they continue their conference slate. There is not a frontline remaining on Gonzaga's schedule that can match what the trio of Harris, Sacre, and Dower are currently bringing.
As I said in the intro, while Sam Dower is a huge reason for the Zags eight game win streak, he is by no means the sole force behind this team.
Specifically, the play of Gonzaga's freshmen guard duo has continued to be nothing short of outstanding. Last night's win over Santa Clara exemplified how much of an impact Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have had. While Kevin Pangos burst on the scene in a big way with his 33 point barrage against Washington State, Gary Bell has quietly had a major impact on this team. And every time that Zags take the court, Bell continues to gain confidence on both ends of the court. He has quickly become this teams most accomplished defender, holding star Santa Clara guard Kevin Foster to nine points last night. It was Foster's first game of the 11-12 season where he didn't score in double figures. Also, it was the first game of the year for Foster where he didn't hit a single three point shot. In the past four games, Foster had hit about four per game. To compare, last season against Gonzaga, Foster averaged 33 points per game and averaged seven made three point baskets. To hold him to nine points and 0-4 from deep is nothing short of remarkable.
While there are still a number of inconsistencies with this team, there are no glaring weaknesses in my view and that is something we haven't been able to say in quite some time. With Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, the Zags have guards that can get it done on both ends and feed their talented front court. If Guy Landry Edi or Marquise Carter can step up and provide solid, consistent minutes, this team could have a dominant second half of the season. We are about to learn a lot more on Thursday when the Bulldogs take on Saint Mary's. The Gaels have one of the most potent 1-2 punches in the conference in Matt Dellavedova and Rob Jones. That combo is averaging nearly 30 points per game for the 14-2 Gaels. It will be a measuring stick game for both as the jury remains out on Saint Mary's which still lacks a real quality win except for dominating BYU at home.