So this is what it feels like. Instead of watching Gonzaga give up a big 2nd half lead, we got to see them overcome a 2nd half deficit and what a deficit it was!!! Down 75-60 with 7:49 left in the game, GU played tough defense to put the lid on USF’s insane three point shooting, Kyle Dranginis outhustled everyone on the floor and Kyle Wiltjer finally scored more points in the 2nd half than he did in the first. The result; Gonzaga beat USF 102-94 in overtime, a seemingly impossible, improbable, phenomenal comeback.
In the game’s first 8 minutes, it appeared the USF small line-up (basically 4 guards) didn’t have an answer to Domas Sabonis who looked like he was going to be unstoppable in the post. While USF never did find an answer to Sabonis, they did find a way to exceed him in scoring by raining three ball after three ball during the next 25 minutes. USF made 12 threes in the first 30 minutes of play with starting guards Devin Watson, Tim Derksen and Ronnie Boyce combining for 65 points on the night to go along with 6’4” forward Uche Ofoegbu’s 18. USF had a four point lead at the half and came out the second half firing away to build the lead to 16, 62-46 at the 13:40 point in the second half. Over the next 6 minutes, USF seemingly toyed with GU going basket for basket every time Gonzaga showed the slightest sign of life and attempted to make a comeback. What followed over the last 7:30 will be remembered by those of us who watched for a long time.
The shots USF had been making all game stopped falling, Josh Perkins came to life and Kyle Wiltjer and Domas Sabonis continued to dominate the middle to allow GU to seep back into the game before the entire dam busted. GU got within 10, 77-67 at 5:19 and there the scored stayed until Sabonis finally made a layup almost two minutes later. USF got two free throws to bring the lead back to 10 with under 3 minutes to play, but missed everything else they shot for the next 2:50. Wiltjer scored 4 in the post, Perkins hit a three, Sabonis hit a basket and three free throws and finally Dranginis made a free throw to put GU up by 3 with 20 seconds left. USF’s Tim Derksen made a game tying three to send it into overtime, but GU jumped out early in the extra period and never looked back.
Wiltjer played 42 minutes with 30 points and 11 rebounds, Domas 43 minutes with 35 points and 14 rebounds, Perkins 43 minutes with 15 points and EMac chipped in 14 points. Yeah Wiltjer and Sabonis both put up incredible numbers, but player of the game for GU could have very well been Kyle Dranginis. While his stat line was good at 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 each blocks, steals and assists, it was when and how he got ‘em that possibly made the difference in the game. 2 key offensive rebounds in the last four minutes, a key block and probably the dagger 3 in overtime. Kyle’s had a rough couple of games lately, but tonight, just like the UConn game, he showed his value in the toughest of situations and both times turned defeats into wins.
While it’s hard to say anything negative after such a great win, Sabonis, Wiltjer and Perkins all playing over 40 minutes proves Mark Few has lost confidence in two players on his already short bench. Bryan Alberts started both halves but was limited to five minutes of playing time and 1 shot attempt. Ryan Edwards saw four minutes of action in the first half, but two quick fouls immediately sent him to the sideline for the rest of the game. As tough as Perkins, Sabonis and Wiltjer looked in the last five minutes of the game and in overtime you’d have to think they were running on fumes. Few has always tightened the rotation in tight games, but not usually with the bigs. Sabonis is a monster, but you’d have to think both he and Wiltjer would benefit from a few minutes rest each half. It’s not going to happen until Edwards can step up his game and quit committing quick fouls. Silas Melson played 22 minutes and took only one shot. One of the primary reason got into such a deep hole is Melson, EMac, Alberts and Perkins combined only had 5 first half points. While it’s reassuring Silas is no longer taking bad shots, he seemingly needs to find a happy medium to shoulder some of the scoring burden.
USF’s tiny War Memorial Gym has always been a tough place for GU to play. To come back from 16 down in this hostile environment has to raise the team’s spirits and confidence. Thankfully, they have a week off before three home games against Portland, BYU and San Diego. The next time they hit the road will be against the hated St. Mary’s at Moraga. Savor tonight’s win fans, it was truly one for the ages.