There are a lot of games where teams play so good that you can't help but wonder what is said in the locker room beforehand and during halftime. For Gonzaga, this was especially true as last night's game ended a decade of basketball brilliance in Spokane. With a lot of former Zags that built this program in attendance, Gonzaga showed up on New Years Eve and delivered one of their most complete performances of the season in a convincing New Years Even win over Oklahoma 83-69.
The Zags entered the game coming off an absolute demolition of Eastern Washington a few days earlier but everyone was still wondering how Gonzaga would respond in their first big game since the Duke loss. Mark Few had called that loss an aberration and to be honest, I wasn't sure if that was true. Looking at the stats from last night and just watching that game, you can see what Coach Few meant. The Zags did an outstanding job in basically every facet of the game on New Years Eve, especially in areas they had previously struggled. First and foremost they shot great from the free throw line. Gonzaga only missed three free throws, two by Will Foster and one by Bol Kong, and shot 82% from the line. Robert Sacre looked smooth in many aspects of the game and was 5-5 from the line. The best news of the night for me was that Gonzaga out-rebounded and out-assisted the Sooners. Yes, you read that right; Gonzaga actually passed the ball better then their opponent as they totaled twenty assists in the face of ten turnovers. Matt Bouldin (8) and Demetri Goodson (5) led the way in that department for the Bulldogs. Rebounding was also great for this team as Elias Harris (9) and Robert Sacre (7) led the way on the glass for the Zags. They owned the glass, recording a 33-25 advantage.
There's no doubt in my mind that this was the best I've seen this team play since back around Thanksgiving in Maui. All the guys filled their roles. Matt Bouldin wasn't scoring well (5-13 from the floor) but had eight assists and five rebounds. Demetri Goodson had five assists in comparison with two turnovers which is all I can really ask for. Steven Gray got his groove back last night with a new hairstyle and 18 points on 7-15 shooting. Elias Harris set the tone for this team with a very physical style of basketball to start the game that OU never really responded to. The German power forward only missed one of his six shots and finished with 15 points. Bol Kong has seemingly been entrenched as the sixth man on this team and just blew my mind last night. I was very worried about how we'd respond after Tiny Gallon broke the backboard but on the ensuing possession, Kong got the ball as the shot clock was winding down and drilled a fall-away three with a defenders hand in his face. Bol was 5-8 from the floor and ended up with 14 points and a couple offensive boards.
continue reading after the jump as we look back on New Years Eve and get ready for Illinois...
As far as coaching and the rotation is concerned, I was very pleased with how Mark Few gameplanned for the Sooners. Oklahoma is just about as young as Gonzaga and is really hamstrung because their returning guys aren't as skilled as guys like Bouldin and Gray. For that reason, Mark Few did everything he could to stop Willie Warren from putting up a gaudy number. Warren finished with 19 points on 7-11 shooting but he really had to work for every shot. I thought guys like Steven Gray and Meech Goodson did a good job tracking Warren around the court and even our bigs like Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris, and Bol Kong did a nice job stepping out and challenging shots. Andrew Fitzgerald had a big game for Oklahoma with 13 points but that was a result of the Zags' defensive gameplan. It was designed well and executed even better.
I think that the most glaring absence of last night's rotation was that Grant Gibbs didn't get a single minute. A big reason for this was because Mark Few really dedicated himself to using a big and lengthy lineups. Bol Kong and Steven Gray's outstanding games really made it hard to get them off the court as well. The length really came into play with the other bench guys in Mangisto Arop and Kelly Olynyk. I was very pleased with the minutes Kelly gave this team last night. He didn't force any shots, get burnt on D, or cost this team anything in 10 minutes and just provided another big body to put out there against Oklahoma. Manny really did well in his 12 minutes played. He's very composed on defense and like Elias Harris, he just doesn't look like a freshman. His long arms and nice quickness really make him a match up nightmare on both ends of the court. He only had five points and a rebound but like I've said before, I just want bench players that fill their roles and Arop does that whenever he's on the court.
The highlight we'll all see for the next week or so will be Tiny Gallon breaking the backboard on a missed alley-oop attempt but I'll take the Bol Kong fall-away three highlight every day of the week. I'll also take the Elias Harris drive and dunk early in the game. I must also note that I haven't enjoyed watching a pair of young players as much as I do Elias and Bol. They both are so talented on the offensive side of the court and really have yet to show any signs of fear when their on the court. At Gonzaga, we've sort of grown accustomed to freshman and new guys passing up on shots and not getting much confidence from their teammates but to see Elias dominate early and Bol get passed to with the shot clock winding down, you really begin to realize that these guys are not normal newcomers.
We had a lot of questions heading into last night's game against Oklahoma and I think we will probably have more with Illinois coming up tomorrow. This team will basically take the form of an NBA squad making a road trip to Chicago for a big game against the Illini. Currently, Illinois is 9-4 but has been ridiculously inconsistent. They've had great wins against Clemson, Vandy, and Northwestern but suffered losses to Georgia, Bradley, and Utah. They've got some great talent and will pose a serious challenge to Gonzaga. It'd be huge to get a win over a Big 10 foe headed into conference play.
Hopefully everyone had a safe and Happy New Years Eve and is having a restful day!