I've been scratching my head for a good half hour now after Gonzaga's loss to Santa Clara this evening at the Leavey Center. I'm truly left in wonderment about how that loss just happened. Santa Clara was on a pretty steep downswing. They've had some abysmal losses, some routs, and a coach that many think will be out soon. Gonzaga entered winners of nine in a row, had garnered some quality victories and seemed to have a recipe for success all lined up to serve to the Broncos.
As cheesy as it will sound; tonight was the perfect storm. You had a heavy favorite enter with an inept game plan followed up by absurd adjustments. You had a streaky scorer catch fire and career it. You had officials that I didn't find terribly biased but never really allowed the game to get into a flow. And, you had said heavy favorite on the road. Kevin Foster was the main culprit that eventually slayed the Bulldogs tonight. As I said in the preview, Foster is a volume shooter. He put up 20 field goals tonight and knocked down 11. 14 of his shot attempts were three pointers, of which he converted eight. He tacked on eight additional points off free throws for a career high 36 point performance. There's no room for "Woe is me, Kevin Foster just careered it because he was playing the Zags". Foster has had a number of games this season in the mid-to-high twenties. Scoring in excess is nothing new for him. Gonzaga just allowed him with an avenue to do so and Foster's teammates gave him just enough help to pull out a win.
more after the jump
For as much crap as we like to give Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating, there was zero doubt who coached the better game tonight. After every single Santa Clara timeout, the Broncos had a set play called and I can't remember one that failed. At home, after a timeout when you are trying to settle things down a bit, there is nothing like a set play to change momentum very quickly. Keating did an outstanding job with this tonight. As I sit here looking at the game flow and box score and try and jog my memory, I can't help but wonder what the gameplan was for Gonzaga. For a large part of the first half, we seemingly abandoned the post game. Guys were tossing up three's, some were isolating and driving and there was literally no semblance of the offense I had seen over the past nine games. I felt like the Zags had been watching the Denver Nuggets and just said, "Screw it, that looks like fun".
Then there were the adjustments and in-game specialties. My two favorites had to be the defensive playcalling and the handling of David Stockton. Starting with Stockton, and this ties back to Gonzaga's abandonment of a consistent post game, David was easily the best point guard playing for the Bulldogs tonight. He was finding open teammates, hitting shots in rhythm, and this was a game where his defense was even adequate. There are a number of games where Stockton simply doesn't work, but tonight was definitely not one of those games. For his efforts, David saw 11 minutes of court time.
The more and more I think about this, I can't help but wonder if Mark Few gives this team free reign for one game to call your own number, make your own substitutions...virtually a 40 minute recess if you will. Defensively, at the opening of the second half, I literally had to bury my face in my hands. Rather than apply some on ball pressure to an extremely streaky team, it was better in the eyes of the coaches to sit back and play a zone and then...here's the kicker...switch to a man defense in the same possession! It was so brilliant that Mangisto Arop had no idea what was going on and Kevin Foster proceeded to bury a shot. I'm all for testing things and trying to dial in your defensive sets, but on the road against a team that really has nothing else but to beat Gonzaga, it simply isn't the time and place. You have length in the backcourt, and a point guard that is virtually a defensive specialist...why not ratchet things up and apply pressure to the inferior opponent? Why sit back, flip flop sets within a possession, and allow the opponent to gain confidence?
It would be silly to put the entire loss on the shoulders of the coaching staff. The Zags also failed to execute tonight. Elias Harris was completely disinterested, Mangisto Arop continues to carve out his place among the most frustrating players I've ever seen (Manny played 19 minutes, didn't attempt a shot, and had more fouls than rebounds), and the list goes on and on. Some of the stats are truly hard to look at; the most painful being 19 turnovers to 11 assists. Carelessness with the ball rests on the shoulders of the team and when you senior guard has six turnovers, the night is likely to end poorly.
In summation, it was a total team effort tonight. Let's hear your thoughts.