With all the anticipation leading up to the start of college basketball, we often forget one crucial fact: November basketball is sometimes tough to watch. For the first five minutes of tonight's game, it was downright cringe-worthy. Gonzaga and West Virginia combined for eight points in the first five minutes of game action. For the next two minutes, however, things began to click for the Bulldogs and they put together what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. Gonzaga was led by the backcourt on offense as Gary Bell, Guy Landry Edi, and Kevin Pangos were fantastic after a slow start in the first half. Truth be told, the Mountaineers put together one of the worst halves of basketball I've seen in quite some time which is to be expected with the amount of new players that are coming together for Bob Huggins. This will be a good Mountaineers team but it will just take some time to mold all the talent into a cohesive unit. For now, the Zags are happy to walk away with a 84-50 win.
The only player that was somewhat watchable early on for Gonzaga was Guy Landry Edi. The senior forward was sensational all night. He was up front as Mark Few elected to run some pressure defense early on and, to be honest, I think I saw him guard every position in the first half. He's physical, athletic, and his offensive confidence is growing at a rapid pace. In total, he finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds. I really can't stress how impressive he was and how much he has improved over the offseason.
Edi's backcourt counterparts, Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos, picked up where they left off. Last year at this time, it was flashes of excellence mixed with the usual freshmen mistakes. This season, their are far fewer valleys for these two guards. Gary Bell was phenomenal. His handles were excellent against some tough West Virginia perimeter defense and that was an area many were worried about. He showed great poise, was patient with his shot and made some crucial buckets to build the early lead. We not only saw his three point ability, but also his propensity to slash and make the runner. Kevin Pangos had a nice performance, as well. He wasn't draining back to back to back threes like we saw last November against WSU but he controlled the game and made a number of nice plays. In total, the sophomore duo combined for 28 points on 9-18 shooting.
As we expected, this was a tougher matchup for the Gonzaga bigs. Elias Harris was held scoreless in the first half, Sam Dower looked extremely frazzled early on, and Przemek Karnowski seemed to rush a bit as well. West Virginia has some All Big-12 type talent in the paint with Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray but you wouldn't gather that from their performance tonight. The combo finshed with 19 points (NOTE: Murray got a lot of those points in clean up time) and were unable to get started for Bob Huggins. Major praise goes to Sam Dower who did a great job making sure Kilicli in particular wasn't able to get the ball early on. He did a nice job fronting the skilled big and really proved a lot of people wrong that said he couldn't perform against 'tough' teams. It wasn't his night offensively, but Dower was a big reason for the win tonight.
Overall, this is a heck of a win. While West Virginia isn't near what they will be at the end of the year, it is always good to notch a win against such a solid program in November. When you glance at the stat sheet, the thing that jumps out is just how deep this team is. Many Gonzaga teams were defined by one or two guys. Whether it is Adam Morrison, Matt Bouldin, Jeremy Pargo, etc., this team seems to break that mold. Pangos, Harris, Bell, Edi, Dower, and on and on can all star on any given night. Come March, that talented depth is going to be a huge factor.