After winning 11 of their first 12 games of the season No. 8 Gonzaga opened West Coast Conference play Saturday with arguably its biggest test of the conference season: at BYU. With the perimeter tandem of Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth leading the nation’s highest-scoring offense, the Cougars were expected to at the very least challenge Mark Few’s team in Provo.
And with the exception of a slow start in which Gonzaga scored 18 of the game’s first 24 points BYU did just that, going small after beginning the game with two big men in an attempt to slow down the Gonzaga front court and using a zone defense to slow down the visitors offensively. The other key for BYU was working to turn Gonzaga misses into transition opportunities on all misses. BYU was eventually able to pull even at the break on a Collinsworth three-pointer, and the game remained tight throughout the second half.
However, Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos proved to be too much for BYU, as those two combined to score 45 points in Gonzaga’s 87-80 win.
Wiltjer, who’s been one of the best transfers in the country, was a matchup problem for BYU throughout due to his ability to score both inside and on the perimeter. The former Kentucky forward scored 11 points in the first half and 13 in the second, with USC transfer Byron Wesley (15 points, ten rebounds) adding ten of his fifteen points in the game’s first 20 minutes. The difference maker was Pangos, whose role has undergone the greatest amount of change throughout the 2014-15 season to date.
After scoring just three points in the first half Pangos racked up 18 in the second, as he was more aggressive in looking for openings to score himself against the BYU defense. Pangos made five of his seven second-half field goal attempts (4-for-5 3PT), and he finished the game with 21 points, seven assists and just one turnover. With Gonzaga’s lack of depth at the point guard position, Pangos has sacrificed some scoring opportunities to get his teammates quality looks. But while Pangos’ scoring average may have dipped from last season to this, the shooting percentages have improved and he’s also taken good care of the basketball.
The addition of Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan in early January will help the Bulldogs when it comes to having options to can initiate things offensively, and that will give Pangos more chances to play off the basketball moving forward. But he’s been very good as the lead guard for Gonzaga this season, getting even better at balancing when to look for his own shot and when to sacrifice that in order to get his teammates quality looks.
In the second half Saturday the senior guard was took advantage of the BYU defense and put 18 points on the board, leading the way for Gonzaga as they picked up a road win in their WCC opener.
One week after suffering their lone defeat of the 2014-15 season, No. 9 Gonzaga was once again on the road facing a Pac-12 opponent. However unlike No. 3 Arizona, which defeated the Bulldogs in overtime last Saturday, Mark Few’s team took on a UCLA squad that lacked the depth needed to win a game of this caliber. And that’s how things played out at Pauley Pavilion, as Gonzaga won 87-74 with two newcomers leading the way.
Kyle Wiltjer scored a game-high 24 points and Byron Wesley added 20 on the night, and Gonzaga’s first 15 points were scored by players who didn’t see any game action last season. While Wiltjer was sitting out per NCAA transfer rules Wesley was toiling in relative obscurity at USC, where a lack of wins led to many overlooking his individual achievements, and Domantas Sabonis (ten points, six rebounds) was playing in Europe.
Those three combined to score 29 of Gonzaga’s 38 first half points, and just as important was the Bulldogs’ play on the defensive end of the floor. UCLA shot just 32.3% from the field in the first half, and Steve Alford’s Bruins nearly had as many turnovers (nine) as made field goals (ten).
Unlike Gonzaga, which has the pieces needed to account for a quiet half or game from a key contributor, UCLA needs all of its best weapons to perform well if they’re to beat high-level opposition.
Gonzaga kept Bryce Alford (23 points) under wraps in the first half, limiting him to five points on 2-for-7 shooting, and in the second half Norman Powell managed to score just four points. Add in a quiet night from Tony Parker (five points, nine rebounds) and UCLA found itself fighting an uphill battle.
Gonzaga’s depth gives them a margin for error that some teams just don’t have, and that was the case for UCLA. And while the Bulldogs may not have landed the knockout blow that could have turned this game into a blowout in the second half, they had more than enough production to maintain a comfortable margin. Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos scored nine points apiece, and that level of production wasn’t an issue for Gonzaga because others were ready to step forward.
The wing position in college basketball this season will be fun to keep track of. It can be argued that from a depth standpoint this is the strongest position for incoming freshmen, with two players expected to be NBA Draft lottery selections in the near future and others expected to have a significant impact on their team’s fortunes. But there are also skilled veterans among the ranks, including one who reached the Final Four last season and another whose team fell one win short of that goal. What’s the common bond amongst many of these players? Versatility, which allows them to impact games in multiple facets.
Below are some of the best wings in college basketball this season, beginning with a gifted freshman from the Pac-12.
1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has the build of a pro and the skill set to match, as he’s capable of scoring at all three levels with great consistency. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, which is key when fitting into what was one of the nation’s best defensive teams a season ago. In a season without a clear-cut choice for national Player of the Year, Arizona’s freshman wing could be right in the mix come March.
2. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker went from reserve to starter in 2013-14 and his productivity was one reason for the Badgers’ trek to the Final Four. Dekker averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. If he can raise his three-point shooting back to freshman year levels (39.1%), and he looked better shooting the ball at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, Dekker becomes an even tougher assignment for opposing teams.
3. Delon Wright, Utah: The late Bum Phillips’ words regarding Earl Campbell may apply to Wright when it comes to discussing the most versatile players in college basketball: “he may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call roll.” Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg) was a pivotal figure for the Utes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring and assists. It could be argued that Wright should be on the lead guards list given how often he’s allowed to initiate the offense for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, but he fits in at any of the three perimeter positions.
4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas: One of three freshmen to make the top ten in our list, Oubre has the skill set needed to be one of the most gifted scorers in the country immediately. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a slight build, but he can finish through contact and is a good perimeter shooter as well. Oubre also uses ball screens well, an attribute that was on display at the adidas Nations camp in August. Given the production Kansas lost on the wing in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Oubre will have plenty of chances to put points on the board.
5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he was very good around the basket as a freshman. The question for Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is a simple one: how much has he improved his perimeter shooting over the summer? Hollis-Jefferson showed progress in July at the Lebron camp, and a consistent perimeter shot would make him an even tougher player for opponents to defend.
6. Treveon Graham, VCU: The 6-foot-6 senior has been a consistently productive player for Shaka Smart throughout his career, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Graham can certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he’s good in the mid-range game and can put the ball on the deck as well. He’ll be one of the leaders for a team expected by many to win the Atlantic 10.
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The third freshman in the top ten, the 6-foot-8 Jackson can score both inside and out for the Tar Heels in 2014-15. As a high school senior Jackson averaged 31.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his length makes him a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.
8. Aaron White, Iowa: With Roy Devyn Marble having moved on, the 6-foot-8 White will be an even more important player for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15. As a junior White averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 58.6% from the field. The loss of Marble should open up more opportunities for White, especially when it comes to the mid-range game where he was so successful a season ago.
9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson’s had to navigate injuries for most of his career in East Lansing, but there should be little doubt regarding his skill level. Last season Dawson averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and given the amount of production the Spartans lost (Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) the senior will need to be even more influential on the offensive end.
10. Wesley Saunders, Harvard: Saunders is one of the leaders for the Crimson, having averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a junior. Saunders’ versatility is one of his greatest attributes, and he’s also done a good job of getting to the foul line in each of the last two seasons.
THE NEXT TEN
11. Anthony Brown, Stanford
12. Justise Winslow, Duke
13. Winston Shepard III, San Diego State
14. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
15. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
16. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
19. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
20. Anthony Drmic, Boise State
ALSO CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Patricio Garino (George Washington), Vince Hunter (UTEP), Nick King (Memphis), Justin Martin (SMU), Sheldon McClellan (Miami), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Tyrone Wallace (California), Byron Wesley (Gonzaga).