As much as it was an inspired, all-in effort by BYU, it was also a sluggish, seemingly unfocused -- at least at times -- showing by the Zags, who saw their bid for an unbeaten regular season extinguished, 79-71. They did things like fail to put a body on an offensive rebounder that resulted in a killing basket, and step on the sideline while receiving a routine pass for one of their 16 turnovers.
As good as Gonzaga has been defensively this year, I never got the sense GU was ready to summon the steely resolve to hunker into a stance and get a stop when it was needed. (As T.J. Haws was allowed to dribble out on top in 1-4 sets, I could only wonder how the Zags would possibly deal with
somebody like UCLA’s Lonzo Ball in that same scenario a few weeks from now.)
You can argue that it was just one of those nights, and that’s not irrational. BYU threw in some really deep threes, from places that are hard to guard, and that only made for greater space for big man Eric Mika, who was unstoppable.
The sky isn’t falling, obviously. If the analysis seems harsh, it’s only because Gonzaga’s performance was so far from what we’ve seen virtually all season.
Check the numbers, and it’s no secret why Gonzaga came up short:
-- BYU shot 45.2 percent, hardly blistering, but a better percentage than any GU opponent in the last 15 games. The Cougars also shot better than Florida, Iowa State, or Saint Mary’s (twice) -- all NCAA-bound -- against the Zags.
-- BYU made nine threes. Only Tennessee (10) has made more this year against the Zags.
-- BYU held Gonzaga to a 38-all rebounding standoff, first time anybody has fared that well in 11 games. Tellingly, when the teams met Feb. 2 in Provo, GU had a 47-34 advantage.
-- Gonzaga tied a season low with eight assists. Thus, fewer than one in three GU baskets (26) was assisted.
-- Gonzaga shot a season-worst 3 of 16 (.188) on three-pointers.
-- You have to go back to the Tennessee game Dec. 18 to find one when Gonzaga made more than its 16 turnovers.
Given all that, you could conclude it’s wondrous Gonzaga was a possession or two from winning the thing.
Having said that, I don’t think it’s too bold to add that a performance like this doesn’t get Gonzaga to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Friday on this blog, I wrote about how Senior Night sentimentality can get in the way of performance. But because Gonzaga roared to an 18-2 lead -- probably its best start of the season -- that didn’t seem to be the case.
Did the burden of trying to finish it and go 30-0 become too oppressive?
Could have; going 16 for 29 at the foul line prompts such questions. Once BYU steadied itself and edged back into contention, it may have served as a sobering reminder to the Zags that their night’s work wasn’t done, and seemingly, it became an increasing struggle to accomplish it. That’s probably something only a coach would know.
Other random notions:
-- Mika’s flagrant foul deep into the second half on Przemek Karnowski was his first personal, and it underscored the fact GU didn’t really try to exert foul pressure on Mika, even when his big night was snowballing in the first half. Karnowski, recall, went forever without scoring. Forcing Mika to guard more could have been helpful.
-- BYU’s defense, albeit ranked only No. 65 nationally by KenPom, seems for some reason to trouble Gonzaga with a sort of soft trap on the perimeter -- not necessarily a ball-hawking, turnover-seeking trap, more of an offense-disrupting one that the Zags should handle better. It bothered them in Provo, and to some degree, Saturday night.
-- A rugged night against Mika should tell Zach Collins he plainly needs another year before launching himself on the NBA. But we all know how illogical that process can be.
-- The Zags need Killian Tillie back, to deepen the bench and give them another proficient “big” on the floor. (Injury information around GU seems vastly under-reported, even in general terms, so I can only assume something ESPN’s Andy Katz said recently is on the money -- that the coaches hope to have him back for the WCC tournament, which begins this week.)
-- I’m increasingly of the opinion that the “X” factor for the Zags is guard Jordan Mathews. Against BYU, he had 12 points, but he took just five shots, and he hardly seems a picture of confidence about his stroke, probably the result of a seven-game stretch from Jan. 26 to Feb. 16 when he shot .333 and made seven of 29 threes. If I’m coaching him, I’m telling him to get at least 10 shots a game, because if he’s continually deferring, there’s no point in having him just sort of be . . . out there.
-- What’s the fallout for Gonzaga regarding a No. 1 seed? Tough to say. Joe Lunardi thinks they’re still solid. But they’re possibly vulnerable to whoever wins the Pac-12 tournament, especially if it’s Oregon or UCLA (the Zags would have a good counter if it’s Arizona, which they beat.) In any case, they’ve just added to their nation of skeptics. One of those is CBS’ Steve Lappas, even as he named Mark Few his national coach of the year Sunday on the Louisville-Syracuse broadcast. “Put it this way,” Lappas postulated. “If you were an 8-9 seed, and you had to play a 1 -- Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina or Gonzaga -- which one are you picking? I know which one I’m picking.”
Tough words for a team that just went three and a half months without a loss. For Gonzaga, the test ahead is an old, familiar one: Proving itself.