Bulldogs dominate inside to turn back San Diego
The Zags' plan was to go inside early and often, post hard, be decisive and physical, and they executed that to a T.
Seattle Times college basketball reporter
SPOKANE — It appears safe to say that Gonzaga is OK. The same might even be true for the poor TV cameraman unfortunate enough to catch a shoulder full-on from the biggest basketball player on the floor Saturday evening.
All's well that ends well, at least for the Zags (16-3) and the 6,000 people who witnessed a 77-60 GU victory over San Diego at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Zags' plan was to go inside early and often, post hard, be decisive and physical, and they executed that to a T. This is, after all, the element that differentiates Gonzaga from most of the rest of the West Coast Conference.
"They were good, back engaging people," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, referring to Robert Sacre, Elias Harris and Sam Dower. "The three games we lost, we weren't very good at that. When all three are in there bringing what they bring, that's kind of who we are.
"That's who we expected ourselves to be and prepared ourselves to be."
Sacre bulled for 18 points and 11 rebounds, Harris went for 15 and 13, and Dower had 15 points. Each of them outscored all of the outmanned San Diego bigs.
While the freshman progress of guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. has been a revelation, it's no secret that any sort of incursion deep into March is going to depend on whether the Zags can exert their will up front.
"They were great, man," said Zags forward Guy Landry Edi, lauding the big men. "When they play like that, they put us on another level. We'll be pretty hard to stop if our bigs play like that."
The only guy who really curbed Sacre was the unsuspecting cameraman, shooting for in-house TV. On a play in the second half under the Gonzaga basket, a lunging Sacre couldn't handle a pass and barreled, all 7 feet and 260 pounds worth, into the man.
"I saw his head hit the back," said Sacre. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, I hope he's OK.' "
Apparently a humanitarian, Sacre stayed with the cameraman as the action continued to the other end, 5-on-4.
"I had to make sure the person was OK," Sacre said. "I didn't care."
By then, Gonzaga had the game well in hand, thanks to a 23-6 run it applied to the Toreros early in the second half after USD had crept within 32-30.
That run had the fingerprints of Sacre and Harris all over it. First, Harris muscled in a shot in the key while fouled hard, and when he missed the free throw, the Zags saved it and Sacre got his own three-point play. Then Harris had successive drives, the second a dipsy-do thing, and Sacre added two free throws for a 43-30 lead.
The end of that decisive burst was supplied on two hoops by Dower, the first on a slam after a sweet feed from David Stockton.
Aside from the play of the bigs, it was a signal occasion for Landry Edi, the JC transfer from the Ivory Coast, who got his first start, supplanting Mike Hart. Landry Edi contributed, and he's another potential piece in Gonzaga's upside.
"It's always fun to start, always fun to come out that little lane (of supportive students during introductions)," smiled Landry Edi. "It was a goal to get the coaches' trust."
For his part, Sacre apparently has always had it, even though he went through a 10-game stretch from mid-December to mid-January averaging just 6.9 points, troubled for part of it by a dislocated thumb.
"It was a small thing; I shouldn't have made it bigger than it was," said Sacre. "But no question, it's easier to catch balls and finish."
So the Zags are 6-1 in the WCC and in a solid position, notwithstanding the ghoulish loss at St. Mary's last week.
"It happens," Sacre shrugged. "We're not too worried about it."
One reason, he added, is "we have a bunch of great guys coming off the bench. That's the best thing about our team. We're so deep. The sky's the limit for us."
Oh, yes, the cameraman said he was all right, other than a little headache. Playing like this, the Zags can cause those.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Attendance: 6,000. Officials: Ken Kitty, Brett Nansel, Michael Rapp.