Time and time again in tonight's Gonzaga-Cincinnati match up I had to shake my head and wonder how in the world the Zags were still in this game. Throughout Maui, we have seen tremendous individual performances from veteran leaders like Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray. Tonight, however, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin threw out a great gameplan against Gonzaga and basically forced them to have someone else beat his Bearcats. It worked wonders early on and in some ways, was effective the entire night. What Cronin didn't account for was a combination of other members of this Gonzaga teams stepping up and his squad attempting a dizzying amount of outside shots. This combination was enough for the Zags tonight as they outlasted the Bearcats in a thrilling overtime game, 61-59.
If you couldn't tell from the final score, this game was not exactly an offensive slugfest. Cincinnati's defense was absolutely outstanding all game long as they dedicated themselves to doubling Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray on the perimeter and not letting them get their drive started. This opened up lanes for Gonzaga's unheralded back court member. Demetri Goodson, who has been scrutinized to begin the season came up big for the Bulldogs all night long. He attacked the basket with vigor early on and really took what the Bearcats gave him. He finished with 12 points and was a nice catalyst for Gonzaga in the first half when no one else could really figure out Cincy's defense. It was only fitting that it was Meech's defense at the end of the game that won it for this team.
For as stellar as Meech Goodson was tonight on both ends of the court, the most outstanding player of the tournament for me was Steven Gray. Like a commenter said in our live game thread, Steven has developed into a flat-out gamer. He contributes in so many ways, shows great control and decision making on the court, and is such a calming presence especially during tonight's high tension game. He had 13 points tonight but delivered (unofficially) three assists and brought down seven boards. Like Matt Bouldin, he is learning to contribute in a number of ways and continues to shine all over the court.
continue reading more on Gonzaga-Cincinnati after the jump...
There were obviously a number of negative plays for Gonzaga tonight. Anytime a Mark Few-led team scores 61 points, including an overtime, something is not right. The great thing about this win, and the entire Maui experience in general, is that they have increased their toughness ten-fold. From being taken to the wire by Colorado, to battling a defensive-minded Wisconsin team, and then tonight facing an aggressive, athletic Cincinnati team, I feel like Gonzaga is now prepared for every team on their schedule. Obviously you'd like to see more production from Gray and Bouldin but I would wager that they were near, if not at, the top of the minutes played list in all of Maui.
I'd be remissed if I didn't speak a little bit about the post play for Gonzaga tonight. I do apologize that this post has become a large rambling. I guess beating Big 12, Big 10, and Big East teams in consecutive days does that to me! Back to the post guys. Elias Harris and Rob Sacre struggled early. Elias was settling for outside shots and was kind of taken aback by the physical nature of Cincy. Mark Few wisely sat him early to settle him down and he came out in the second half firing. Sure, he made rookie mistakes and got whistled for a few travels but his bounce is so evident and his motor never stops. He finished in double figures once again and continues to be the hustle player this team needs all over the court. You can't really say enough about Robert Sacre. Early in the second half I said that his game effort was pretty forgettable and he made me eat some serious crow. He made a beautiful mid-range jumper to tie the game with time winding down and blocked Yancy Gates last second dunk attempt to send the game into overtime. He added a powerful dunk in the extra session off a pretty feed from Steven Gray which gave the Zags another lift. His impact has been pretty remarkable as his post moves continue to improve and it's now obvious to me that Rob's improvement since arriving at Gonzaga is nothing short of amazing.
Cincinnati played a hell of a game out there tonight and they deserve a lot of credit. Yancy Gates is a legit big man and Lance Stephenson has all the talent to be a star. They've also got great talent with some of their role players and appear to be a team headed to a nice season in the Big East. I would say that they were doomed by their horrid shot selection as they attempted 31 three point shots in this game. You can take that many if you are going to make a decent percentage but when you only make eight...odds are you aren't going to win the ball game.
All in all, it's another early season tournament win for Gonzaga. Last season they rolled through the Old Spice Classic and this year they fought through a dangerous Maui team. This tournament proved to be a real sleeper as I'd wager that there will be at least five tournament teams from this field come March. Gonzaga's win tonight means that they are likely destined for a spot back in the Top 25 and will be rolling into their match up with cross town rival Washington State with plenty of momentum.
Enjoy this one, Gonzaga fans, and have a tremendous and relaxing Thanksgiving!!