When Gonzaga went into halftime only down by three on the road against SMU, I was actually excited. Considering that Kyle Wiltjer, our leading scorer, was on pace for the worst game of his career, the fact that we were only down three instead of down by 20 was huge.
So going into the second half, I still had hope that the Bulldogs could pull off the upset. But then, as the second half started to unravel, one thing became pretty clear: Gonzaga looked pretty gassed.
It is no secret that the Gonzaga players log heavy minutes. Short benches will do that to you. The team also had a quick turnaround travel time for this game, playing in Portland on Thursday and ending up in Dallas on Saturday. They also had a home town crowd and a former President to face off against.
A lot of credit goes to Nic Moore in this game. He played fantastically and ensured his team would win. But there was one play in particular that summed up Gonzaga's defensive struggles in the second half. It came in around the 6:30 mark in the second half, with SMU leading by five.
That right there is how you gift a team three points. If Nic Moore didn't hit that shot, he would practically deserved to be benched. In basketball, there is no way you can get more open than that.
Ten years ago, I wouldn't read that much into a play like that. Sure, it is real bad, but ten years ago, Gonzaga played defense with the focus of a two-year-old. In previous seasons, this hasn't been the case. This season especially, even with the loss of Przemek Karnowski, the team still plays solid team defense for much of the game. Don't get me wrong, Gonzaga has had its fair share of defensive miscues this season. All teams do. Most teams, even Gonzaga, don't get it as wrong as the example above.
Against SMU, Gonzaga entered the half down by three with their star player shooting 1-for-way-too-many-attempts. Much of this was a credit to the defense. SMU only averaged 0.88 points per possession.
In the second half, the baskets came easily. Nic Moore turned it on, Wiltjer turned it even more off, and the defense followed. SMU averaged 1.31 points per possession in the second half. That number right there, is as much of a game changer as you can get. In the second half, the team failed to execute consistently on the defensive end, and that helped seal the outcome of the game.