Prior to this evening, the phrase "firing on all cylinders" and "Gonzaga" were never in the same sentence. The West Coast Conference champion Bulldogs have been a team that has largely been disjointed. For some phases of the season, the Zags' frontcourt looked like it couldn't be stopped. Other times of the year, Steven Gray played like a Wooden Award finalist. Then there were times when the bench stepped up or Marquise Carter rose to the forefront. As fans, we have always secretly whispered "Man, I hope this team can somehow put it all together for one night, cause it is gonna be special". Well, I'll be damned, it happened tonight in Denver, Colorado as the Bulldogs dropped the hammer on the Red Storm of St. John's.
Tonight was really a remarkable thing that I was so fortunate to attend. Tonight I saw a vaunted Big East team that wanted zero part of Gonzaga's physical style of play. D.J. Kennedy's injury played a factor, of course, but unless D.J. Kennedy magically turned into Dwight Howard in the past 24 hours, I can't imagine Gonzaga not coming away with a win based on how they played. A couple things that really jumped out to me: The first thing just has to be the rebounds. Specifically, I was blown away by the space eating fashion in which Robert Sacre operates. Watching on TV, this is something you really can't get an idea of but, while Rob had nine boards, I feel confident in saying that he accounted for fifteen more based on how many bodies he is able to move. Tonight he quit being a ball watcher and just beat up the Johnnies on the glass. He wasn't the only reason Gonzaga pulverized St. John's on the glass (41-18!) but he was a huge reason.
The second thing that jumped out to me is something that shouldn't surprise most of our readers. A press!!! All week we had heard that St. John's was going to press Gonzaga until they cried but it was a simple three-quarter court trapping press employed by Mark Few that caused the Red Storm all sorts of headaches. The Bulldogs got a couple of breakaway steals off the simple press and it went a long way in terms of flipping the tempo on St. John's. There's no doubt that the Red Storm pressure was intense as advertised but I think the Gonzaga pressure defense was something Steve Lavin was not expecting. Singling out someone on defense, I was blown away by Demetri Goodson. Dwight Hardy finished with 26 but that was on 10-23 shooting and it took Hardy a long, long time to get going. Goodson's 33 minutes will likely be overlooked but his contribution of breaking the SJU press and containing Hardy was totally invaluable.
more on this outstanding win after the jump....
As I said in the intro, tonight was a beautiful fusion of all the great fragments we have seen this season from Gonzaga. Whereas we have been used to the Zags' offense being very one-dimensional this season, tonight the team was simply getting it done from everywhere on the court. This is a very unproven statement but I can't remember a time this season when the Zags executed so well in the half-court. Sure, they weren't always running their sets perfectly but they were making shots when things broke down. A big piece of that is the 20 assists on 28 made field goals. Meech, Marquise Carter, and Steven Gray accounted for 15 of the assists for the Zags.
Speaking of Marquise Carter; I simply can't say enough about my first live experience watching him play. I realized quickly into the game that he is the Anti-Meech. Now, this is no knock to Meech but for as wildly fast and borderline out of control as Meech is, Carter seems like he's back there sipping tea while playing the game. If you were watching the game without knowing much about Gonzaga's roster, there is no way you would have expected this to be Carter's first NCAA Tournament. His 24 points largely came from free throws (9-11) and threes (3-5) but he just seemed to keep making big shots in the second half and continues to play at an absurdly high level.
In a game like this, I think I could write a paragraph about every player. Kelly Olynyk's 12 minutes may have equated to his best game of the season. Sam Dower was outstanding but didn't see much time with the Elias and Rob combo working so well on the glass. Both Elias and Steven Gray, however, do deserve some extra recognition. Gray's 16 points seemed to come so quietly but his four made threes came at extremely opportune times of the game. Gray was very efficient, didn't make a whole lot of mental errors (one bad pass), and filled up the stat sheet with five assists and six boards. Elias Harris was also just smooth. A couple big made threes to go along with eight rebounds, which I'd love to see again because they seemed to me to all come off of miss SJU free throw attempts.
Lastly, and I know this is becoming quite the novel, was that the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. Not only the move to include a press in this game, but so many levers were pulled at the right time by this staff. There was one moment at about the 12 minute mark where I wanted to scream about Stockton and Hart being out there together but, overall, the roster management was outstanding. Few rolled with his starters and Sam Dower early in the game and aside from a few puffs of air and some slight Steven Gray foul trouble, he did not deviate much. I was most happy that Meech played 33 minutes. This kind of game is the reason you have a guy like Meech. He's not going to win you games with offensive production, but he's going to make sure the opposing star doesn't make you lose.
Not much else to say, really. Just one hell of a team win. Next up is the BYU Jimmers. Go Zags!