There are a lot of times during conference play when you have to give yourself a reality check. As Gonzaga went down thirteen points in the second half, I had already begun thinking of a headline for this post. "We aren't invincible in the WCC" was what kept coming to mind and, although I still believe that, Gonzaga's comeback win tonight over Santa Clara really has me wondering. The Bulldogs seemed to be dead in the water at times during this game. They trailed by five at the end of the first half and let that deficit balloon to 10 within the first five minutes of the second. If you look at the play-by-play from the second half, you may be surprised as to how the Bulldogs crawled back into it. The usual suspects, Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris, really didn't have a major impact as Gonzaga made their comeback. Instead, Mark Few relied on some fresh faces and Steven Gray as they downed the Broncos tonight, 71-64.
Before I get into the game breakdown and discussion, I feel like I must point out the three players tonight that flat out would not let Gonzaga lose. Let's start with Steven Gray. Gonzaga's junior shooting guard was simply marvelous, especially when it mattered most. Gray finished the game with 19 points on 8-16 shooting. Looking at the stats, you wouldn't see anything earth-shattering but his play in the second half was sensational. He scored 12 of his points in the second stanza and continued to play with great energy and was always in the right place at the right time. I couldn't be happier with his progression this year.
Secondly, major accolades must be given to Mangisto Arop. Arop had a pretty modest scoring statline (1-2, 4 points) but his two steals and two blocks were enormous late in the game. He hit two really big free throws when Steven went out after getting poked in the eye and continued to play great the rest of the game. I really can't say enough about Manny. He goes for every rebound and if he doesn't get it, he makes it tough for the opponent to. I counted two or three "assisted Gonzaga rebounds" from the freshman.
The last player I want to mention in this opening bit of happiness is Kelly Olynyk. Kelly, like Steven, has been playing great basketball as of late and he started out slow in the first half but was clutch for the Bulldogs in the second half. In my estimation, one of the most crucial points of the game was around the 14 minute mark of the second period. Santa Clara was up 12 points at that point before Olynyk hit a beautiful mid-range jumper. The Broncos proceeded to run down and hit a three but the Zags answered with another Olynyk bucket to keep Gonzaga within 11 points. This was Santa Clara's best chance to pull away from Gonzaga but they didn't account for Kelly hitting two huge shots. His poise after a very rough first half really impressed me.
more thoughts after the jump...
There's no doubt in my mind that the Zags really did escape with a win tonight. Santa Clara put together the most complete performance I've seen against the Bulldogs in the WCC up to this date. They were physical, and I mean very very physical. Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Elias Harris were all gimping around at some point during the game because when Santa Clara fouled or hit the glass, the did it with no regard for Gonzaga's presence on the floor. They were ruthless and actually fantastic. While Gonzaga was really busy trying to be cute in the first half, the Broncos hit big shots and bullied our Zags around. I also thought Kerry Keating called a marvelous game. He knew the Zags wouldn't stick with Meech Goodson long and immediately doubled Matt Bouldin when he played point and caused turnovers and really frustrated our senior leader. Keating had his team ready to pull off the upset.
Thankfully, for Gonzaga, the three players I mentioned in the opener wouldn't let Keating's bunch take home the upset win. It's hard for me to not be happy with this win because I really thought we saw subpar offensive performances from both Matt Bouldin and Elias Harris. Gonzaga's dynamic duo did combine for 35 points in the game but only 11 came in the second half comeback attempt (Sorry Matt, I'm not counting the exclamation layup at the end). They were both really beaten up by the Broncos as it was clear Keating set his sights on the two Bulldog stars. One thing that the Zags could not have won without was Harris' huge night on the boards as he pulled down 15 but I thought SCU did a great job defending the German freshman. Every shot Elias took was met with a double team and he always looked pretty frustrated. Same could be said for Matt. He was visibly frustrated and really emotional tonight and let that take over his offensive game. He forced drives from time to time leading to a few huge Santa Clara blocks and of course, the forced pull up three reared it's ugly head. Up to this point, Matt has really done a great job staying level headed and contributing in other ways but this evening wasn't one of those times. His stats will look great tomorrow and Elias' will as well but I think every Gonzaga fan knew these two were not their usual outstanding selves. Games like these will happen, though, especially as teams adapt to what Mark Few is throwing out there.
Robert Sacre and Demetri Goodson are still pedestrian starters. Each contributed little this evening and the stats are just brutal for such few minutes. Meech had two turnovers and two missed free throws. Rob had five points and three rebounds. Both could make even the toughest Gonzaga fan grimace. The sad thing is I don't see a whole lot of confidence in either. This can be said for Sacre especially. I'm really praying he can regather himself and find that offensive game he flaunted at Michigan State. He looked like a true freshman again tonight as he struggled catching the ball, holding on to it, and doing anything with it when he got it. After the first few games of the year, we assumed Rob and Elias would make Gonzaga an inside-out team and while Harris has lived up to that, Sacre has really fallen short. There is not a doubt in my mind that Gonzaga can't get past the Sweet 16 if these two continue this subpar play. I can't imagine a back court of Matt, Steven, and Manny stacking up against overly athletic defenders as none are really above average ball handlers. I also can't see this team thriving when all teams have to focus on is Elias in the paint. Each one of these sophomores must step up and do it soon.
The bottom line is that the Zags are now 17-3 and continue their climb to another regular season WCC championship. Next up is a Saturday date with Rex Walters and the San Francisco Dons on the road.