When news broke before the game that Matt Bouldin would be inactive and not even suited up for the Battle in Seattle, I wouldn't say that Gonzaga fans were worried. The word I would use to describe the feeling is uncomfortable. For the past four years, Matt Bouldin has created a legacy for himself at Gonzaga. Ever since he torched Washington in his freshman year, people knew he was special and Coach Few definitely understood this. A three-year starter, Matt's been a steady influence on this team and will probably go down as one of the best Zags to come through the program. For this reason, you can understand why today's game against Davidson felt a little bit different. That feeling didn't last long as the Zags got some huge performances from a number of different players and went on to defeat the Wildcats of Davidson, 103-91.
It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Mark Few had been preparing to play this game without Matt Bouldin since the conclusion of the Augustana game. Davidson has the reputation of being a very well-coached and fundamental team. What they aren't known for is being physically imposing. Rather than get to the rack and challenge the defense, Davidson has been built on the outside shot. Realizing this, Mark Few decided to let his bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic team take control of the game and enforce their will. What I think we may also have seen, was a glimpse into Gonzaga's future as a basketball program.
The Wildcats couldn't keep up with the speed of Demetri Goodson and they couldn't handle the power and size of Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. These three all had the best offensive nights in a Gonzaga uniform as each went for a career high. Demetri Goodson constantly sped past the Davidson defense as he finished with 22 points on 6-7 shooting. Meech was also 10-13 from the free throw line. The power of Sacre and Harris was evident from the very start of the game. Robert Sacre used a variety of post moves to score his 23 points. He was so good, in fact, that the only time he missed was from the free throw line as he hit all six of his field goal attempts and went 11-18 from the line. Elias Harris did it from all over the court. Whether it was from the low post, driving from the wing, or spotting up for three, Harris was a man possessed this evening. He finished with 27 points on 7-9 shooting and 11-14 from the charity stripe. These three set such a physical tone all evening that, despite Davidson's best effort, there wasn't anything in the world that was going to stop them from getting a win in Seattle.
It wasn't all a field of roses for the Gonzaga Bulldogs today at Key Arena. Two of the three stars had their fair share of issues on the court. For Demetri Goodson, it was turnovers. Meech had six turnovers in comparison with two assists in today's contest. He had some issues keeping the dribble up with his own speed and just got out of control at times. He made a few ill-advised passes as well but overall it is really hard to critique Meech because I think he did exactly what Coach Few asked of him. By pushing the tempo early and often, Davidson was constantly in reactionary mode on defense. Due to this, Gonzaga was able to get to the line 54 times and really take this game over. People are going to look at the box score and clamor for Meech to be benched because of the turnovers but I just think he's too valuable to the team in other areas. He'll make you pull your hair out at times, but for a kid that's only started 10 games, I'm happy with what I'm seeing. Robert Sacre struggled with his normal issue, fouls. Rob picked up two midway through the first half when it looked like he couldn't be stopped. Once he came back in the game, Davidson was dead in the water. The big man had his most outstanding offensive night and only picked up one more foul in the game.
Matt Bouldin's absence meant that Steven Gray and first-time starter Grant Gibbs had to step up in a big way for Gonzaga. Steven Gray, who came out of the gates hot in 2009, struggled early in today's game and it appeared that we were heading to another frustrating Steven Gray performance. In the second half, however, Steven Gray was sensational in my estimation. He hit some big time jumpers at crucial points in the game and connected on 3-5 shots from beyond the arc. Finishing with 16 points, I think Steven did a great job leading this team and delivering the big shot when necessary. Grant Gibbs had to fill in for his good friend Matt Bouldin and he did an admirable job. Gibbs played 29 minutes and it was clear that Mark Few wanted to keep him out there a lot early on so that he would gain confidence. Even though he only finished with two points, he did a lot of good things on the court. First and foremost, his court vision is Bouldin-esque. When Matt came in as a freshman, he dazzled as a passer and Grant did the same today. His passing into the post is crisp and he puts his team in great position upon reception. Gibbs also pulled down eight big boards and just continues to fill up the stat sheet for this team.
Four other newcomers played a part in today's win over Davidson. Two looked like they need more minutes and two looked like freshman (which is good). First and foremost, it has come to my attention that we, as Gonzaga fans, just have no clue how good Bol Kong is. When Kong has the ball in his hands on offense, I have total confidence that good things will happen. Kong was 3-4 from the floor today, connecting on one three-pointer but I think I was most impressed with his drives. He's so deceptively fast and strong on the dribble that there aren't many players that match up well with him. For a 6'6'' player to have his ability with the basketball on the perimeter is truly remarkable. I also liked what I saw from Kong in other areas. He hit the boards well, hustled well, and I think he more than held his own on defense. Does he have mental lapses time to time? Of course...but he's still learning. Mangisto Arop is another guy I have great confidence in just because I love what he brings on defense. His length on defense is such an asset and when you combine that with Demetri Goodson's quickness, the tandem is a nightmare for opposing guards. He's still gun shy offensively if he can continue to make this type an impact on defense, I'm sure Coach Few will be able to find a way to play him.
I think we all know what lies ahead for Gonzaga. The Zags have a week off to get Matt Bouldin healthy and prepare for the eighth-ranked Blue Devils of Duke. To make things even bigger, the two teams will square off on basketball's biggest stage: Madison Square Garden.