It wasn't pretty, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs picked up their first win off the WCC season. Now, we are back on the conference play schedule - almost. Just 48 hours after outlasting the Santa Clara Broncos, the Zags will play host to the San Francisco Dons on Monday night.
The Zags couldn't shake a feisty Broncos team for much of the night, only leading by three points with close to eight minutes left. But then the talent gap established itself and Gonzaga pulled away to a nice and tidy 74-60 win. It wasn't necessarily a 74-60 win to be that excited about. The offense was a bit stunted without Sam Dower, who missed the game with a lower back injury. Things didn't help after Gary Bell injured his shooting hand. According to Jim Meehanwith the Spokesman Review, Bell will see a hand specialist on Monday and the injury definitely affected his shot.
"I really couldn't shoot," he said. "Coaches put me in there and I tried to do everything they wanted to do on defense."
With Bell's offense out of the question and Sam Dower's offense sitting on the bench, the Bulldogs got big contributions from more minor players. David Stockton had the best game of his Gonzaga career, finishing with 21 points, three assists, four steals and no turnovers. Angel Nunez stepped to the court for his first game as a Bulldog and made an instant difference. Nunez finished with eight points, three rebounds and three blocks in 13 minutes.
Meet the opponents
San Francisco Dons (8-5), Kenpom #151, RPI #183
The Dons have had a weird year. Cody Doolin quit the team after a physical altercation, and the team was suddenly left without their starting point guard. Matt Glover, a transfer from Penn State, has sort of taken over at the point and has filled in quite admirably, averaging four assists per game, good for 10th in the WCC. The majority of the offense comes from the inside for the Dons, one of the few WCC teams that aren't super guard oriented.
Senior forward Cole Dickerson leads the Dons with 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. Sophomore forward Mark Tollesfen chips in 12.7 points and junior forward Kruize Pinkins adds 12.3 points. Down low, the Dons are one of the better shooting teams in the nation. They average 58.1 percent for two point shots, good for second best in the nation. Overall, the Dons shoot 51 percent from the floor, which is good for fifth in the nation. Unfortunately, they might meet their match against the Zags unless they play some defense. Opponents shoot 47.5 percent against the Dons and hit 39 percent of their three-pointers as well.
What to watch out for
Injuries have ravaged the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and it looks doubtful that the Zags will be operating at full health against the Dons. Dower most likely won't see the court, Bell's hand was puffy after the game on Saturday and someone stomped on Kevin Pangos big toe yet again, sending him off the court for four minutes against Santa Clara. The arrival of Angel Nunez couldn't come at a better time for Gonzaga, who will have to be able to hold off the Dons down low. Obviously, San Francisco can't match the size of Przemek Karnowski, but Karnowski is just one guy. Kyle Dranginis (who played 25 minutes) has successfully pushed himself into the rotation and will be called on on the defensive end.
EDIT: Per Jim Meehan, both Dower and Bell are out tonight.
Gonzaga will be without Bell (broken hand) and Dower (lower back) tonight vs. USF -- 2 of top 3 scorers— Jim Meehan (@SRJimm) December 30, 2013
If Bell's hand is still hurting and if Pangos toe is still bothersome, it will be interesting to see if Stockton's recent offensive explosion can ever be replicated. Stockton hasn't always been the best shooter through his collegiate career, and this year he is just a bit above his career average in field goal percentage. The Bulldogs have plenty of scoring options, and the Dons are the team that Gonzaga should be able to easily crush. But if a high majority of the outside shooting is hobbled, the Bulldogs will need someone like Dranginis or Drew Barham to keep the San Francisco defense honest.
It is a tough time for the Zags at the moment. They have four games in eight days to open WCC play, with the next two going to be statement games. After the Dons, the Saint Mary's Gaels and Pacific Tigers come to Spokane. Despite everything that has circled around this team, at least we still have the home court advantage to start out. Let's make sure we don't mess it up.