If you were told me yesterday that without Gary Bell, barely with Sam Dower and with a hobbled Kevin Pangos that the Gonzaga Bulldogs would defeat the St. Mary's Gaels by more than 20 points, I would've patted you on the back and called you a sage.
The Bulldogs are heading for Cloud Nine after absolutely dismantling the loathsome St. Mary's squad on Thursday night in Spokane. Przemek Karnowski had one of his best games as a Zag, co-leading the team with 15 points and was a monster in the paint. He snared nine rebounds, swatted seven shots and made an unknown amount of Gaels pee their pants when they saw him hulking in the paint.
Pangos also scored 15 and Angel Nunez added 13 as yet another cliched team effort brought a Zags win. The Bulldogs held St. Mary's, the nation's third best team at shooting three pointers, to just one three pointer. That came approximately 37 minutes into the game. They held St. Mary's, one of the more efficient offenses in the nation (according to Kenpom) to two assists, the first one coming approximately 36 minutes into the game.
This team is facing adversity and then some. They are playing with a chip on their shoulder reminiscent of the older Gonzaga squads, and so far it is working. Whatever kombucha Mark Few is feeding his team, they are drinking it and ordering more. Each day it is a new player standing up and rising to the occasion. Each day it is making for a very fun team to watch.
Meet the opponent
Pacific Tigers (10-4), Kenpom #121, RPI #65
Pacific originally looked like a pretty good entrant into the WCC. Then WCC play actually hit. They lost to Saint Mary's at home and then dropped one to the Portland Pilots on the road. Still, the Tigers can play with the best of them (with the best of them being Nevada and Utah State). They own road victories against UNLV and Utah State -- not something to look down upon.
The Tigers run one of the more balanced attacks in the WCC. They have nine players averaging at least 10 minutes a game and four different players averaging in double-digits. Sophomore guard Sama Taku and his 12.4 points per game lead the Tigers. Those points don't come easy for him, but that is what also makes him bizarrely dangerous. Taku takes close to 12 shots a game and is only shooting 39 percent from the floor on the year. He doesn't care much though, and when the shots are falling he is dangerous. He has scored 16 or more points seven times this season.
Down low the Tigers rely on senior forwards Khalil Kelley and Tony Gill. Both hold their own pretty nicely down low, with Gill averaging 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and Kelley averages 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Senior guard Andrew Bock fills in the offense with 11.8 points per game, and furthers the consistent theme with the Tigers -- they are a veteran team.
What to watch out for
One thing that makes the Zags so fun to watch right now is that they keep you guessing. With Pangos hobbled, Dower hobbled and Bell out, it has been a rotating cast of characters to step up and shoulder some of the burden for Gonzaga. Stockton, Barham and Karnowski have all had their time under the sun, and against Saint Mary's Kyle Dranginis showed he was ready to join the party. But he'll have to watch his turnovers. Dranginis stepped up with 12 points against the Gaels, but he also had four turnovers. He has 11 over his past three games. With Nunez proving he deserves more minutes, Dranginis' turnover issues might cut into his minutes.
The Zags are looking a bit better health wise. Dower played seven minutes against Saint Mary's, but spent more time logging enough miles on the stationary bike to survive a stage of the Tour de France. Dower did nothing against the Gaels but play seven minutes. Zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero field goals, etc. With Nunez back in the game, the Zags aren't as stretched as they were against Kansas State when Dower was injured. Dower is still one of two big men on the team, and a healthy Dower is a better Gonzaga team. Based on how well the team has played without him, I'd be surprised to see Dower start. But I do expect him to be a bit more of a presence on the court.
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