It was ugly, but it will do. In the first half, my head was scrambling with all the negatives I was seeing out of Gonzaga. The Zags came out flat, looking like they had just finished Thanksgiving dinner during the Maryland game. However, they came out in the second half and dominated the last 10 minutes of play to get an 83-71 victory. The game changing performance goes to Ira Brown. The kid has a flat out nose for the ball and is getting very comfortable around the basket. I thought his season ended after he landed hard after a missed dunk, but he came out and played like a 26 year old and led this team to a win when it looked like nobody else wanted to. Don't let Ira's line mislead you. His six points were enormous and although he only had three boards, he should have had 3 more assisted rebounds because he is such a great leaper and tips it out to teammates easily.
It was a very gritty performance by this team tonight and they showed some toughness with their backs to the wall. I loved the second half. It was back and forth and both offenses played great. Give tons of credit to Oklahoma State, Coach Travis Ford did a great job tonight and they really did live by the three point shot. Micah Downs had some struggles in the first half but finished with a nice double double of 17 points and 13 boards. He hit some crucial three point baskets as well. There is no doubting how much Micah means to this team. His ability to make huge shots is something Gonzaga will need down the wire. He struggled around the rim early on but he hit a three in the corner that made my jaw drop. Pargo drove under the hoop and bounced it to Micah in the corner and before you could blink, the ball was in the hoop. There is little this kid can't do on the court.
Jeremy Pargo played beautifully. He had some ill-advised shots in the first half but so did the rest of the team. He finished with a line of 15 points, 5 boards, and 6 assists. He's going to get a triple double sometime this season, no doubt. He managed the game well overall. I laughed looking at the box score because seeing Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo shoot the most times out of anyone was probably the last thing I wanted to see. They both made key buckets in the second half even though their first half's were less than impressive.
Big Kudos to Rob Sacre. I thought he looked nice down low for this being his first game back and he ate up some minutes out there. He should be getting in the groove soon and could become a real threat to spell Josh.
Austin was good. He got hit with some early fouls as well but shot 4-7 even though I think the three shots he missed were halfway down. He had seven boards which was third on the team behind Micah and Matt. I love his length. He had a huge steal off the inbounds pass which really helped Gonzaga secure victory and his shot is so smooth.
The first negative I want to get out of the way was the officiating. They had some very quick whistles but honestly, I think it favored Gonzaga more than Oklahoma State so that can just be put aside pretty quickly.
There are a number of Gonzaga-related things that made me queasy about this game. Not just because of the way we were playing but because I had seen this kind of performance so many times before. I'm a Mark Few fanatic but some choices he made tonight were a little head-scratching. Some of the lineups that were put on the floor made it seemed like he was trying to test Gonzaga to find someone that wanted to score. With 13:54 in the second half, the Zags were going back and forth with the Cowboys and our only solid source of scoring on the floor was Micah Downs. I know Josh and Austin were in foul trouble but in that kind of game, we need scorers. Gonzaga stumbled up until around the ten minute mark and then Ira and Bouldin showed up and made some big shots. Another coaching error which I didn't understand was the guard rotation. Matt was off in the first half, he came back strong in the second but his first half was one of the worst he has had at Gonzaga. Demetri Goodson, on the other hand, looked completely at ease out there and was making some nice plays. Meech was used sparingly while Gray and Bouldin were out there consistently in the first half. By the way, how great is the Meech and Pargo combination? Absolutely exhilarating.
I understand that Matt and Steven have experience but good teams ride the hot lineup and we seemed to always want to sub for guys that were playing great. This leads into my next point and that is Steven Gray. I'm praying it is just a slump but I see no enthusiasm in his eyes recently. He was expected to be one of the leading players for this team but he has looked lazy. He's getting burned on defense and his dribbling has been sloppy. I don't think his shooting is going to be a long-term issue. Great shooters have slumps and make no mistake, Gray is a great shooter. He's got to fire it up a little bit and get hot. One great game will build his confidence so high and Steven Gray is a guy that Gonzaga needs if they are going to be a final four team.
Josh Heytvelt was saddled with some fouls throughout the game which really made him uncomfortable in the post in the latter parts. We say the "Heytvelt Drift" way too much. A big key for this team is for Josh to camp out in the post and stay there. We have enough three point shooters on this team. While I disagreed with some of the calls, Josh did not have his best night. He had a few great bank shots but only had 3 rebounds which is unacceptable. I think this had to do a lot with the zone being played. Josh had some great blocked shots but never could get into a groove with the early fouls. I also think Oklahoma State was playing great defense (sometimes illegally) against Josh, so give credit to them.
The free throw shooting was a little bit mind-blowing. Not only because we missed so many (13/26) but because our veterans were missing them. Matt missed two, Josh missed three, and Jeremy missed two. The biggest surprise miss was Austin Daye, I didn't even realize he knew how to miss free throws. I really think that nerves were a huge part of it. Matt is still a great free throw shooter, as are Josh and Austin. Jeremy has never been great at the line but will pick it up. The best part was the Rob Sacre, cold as ice and sidelined for so long, comes in and drains two free throws with ease.
Great game by Oklahoma State, if you are a Cowboy fan, you have to like what Travis Ford is doing. I thought they played great in the post for being totally undersized. And good lord do they shoot that three ball well. Every time Gonzaga made a big bucket, a Cowboy got loose in the corner and drilled a three...until Ira Brown came in.
Next up is the Maryland Terrapins who looked impressive in their surprising rout of sixth-ranked Michigan State. The game tips off at 2:30 PST in Orlando. This is going to be a big test as Maryland looked excellent tonight. In the other half of the bracket, Georgetown prevailed but not very impressively. Tennessee rolled through a very disappointing Siena team. Many thought Siena could pull the upset but the Volunteer defense was swarming.