Tag: Przemek Karnowski

Kyle Wiltjer, Desmond Simmons

No. 3 Gonzaga takes away Saint Mary’s best scoring option in blowout victory

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In recent years the rivalry between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga has developed into one of the best in the western United States, with the combination of skilled players and high stakes resulting in intense match-ups whether the game was being played during the regular season or WCC tournament. Thursday night the two programs met in Spokane with matching 7-0 conference records, and with Brad Waldow serving as their anchor in the post the Gaels are the biggest threat to Gonzaga’s quest to win yet another WCC regular season title.

But after Waldow accounted for ten points and five rebounds in the game’s first 20 minutes, keeping Saint Mary’s well within striking distance, the senior power forward was kept in check by the Gonzaga big men and the Bulldogs eventually won by the final score of 68-47.

Saint Mary’s may have shot a slightly higher percentage in the second half than they did in the first, but a lot of that damage was done early and with their primary scoring option neutralized the Gaels struggled mightily as the half wore on. Mark Few’s team shot 52.9% from the field on the night, with Kevin Pangos leading three players in double figures with 14 points while also dishing out five assists, and they limited Saint Mary’s to 36 percent shooting.

Against Waldow (14 points, 6-for-13 FG) the Bulldogs mixed things up defensively, sometimes defending him with a single player and in other spots sending over a second big to double Waldow. With Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer (they combined for 30 points and 31 rebounds) at his disposal, Few is able to defend a big man of Waldow’s caliber in multiple ways. With Waldow less effective, the Bulldogs were able to put together a 19-2 second half run that removed any doubt as to which team would win the game.

While Gonzaga has always been praised for its ability to put points on the board, the strides made defensively the last two years have been overlooked by some. This isn’t a group that’s going to rack up the “glamour” stats that tend to be referenced when the nation’s best defenses are discussed, as they’re in the middle of the pack nationally in both steals and blocks per game.

But they’re solid when it comes to positioning and limiting quality looks, forcing opponents to make contested shots more often than not. That’s resulted in Gonzaga leading the WCC in field goal percentage defense (38.4%) and trailing only Pepperdine in three-point percentage defense (30.6%). Thursday night, in addition to their 36 percent night from the field Saint Mary’s mad just two of its 15 three-pointers with guard Aaron Bright going scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting (0-for-5 3PT).

Thursday’s game can be viewed as Saint Mary’s missing out on an opportunity to bolster their resume with a win over the best team they’ve faced to date. But this was about Gonzaga, with the Bulldogs taking away Saint Mary’s best offensive option in the second half and handing the Gaels their biggest defeat of the season.

New Year’s Resolutions: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Kyle Wiltjer (Getty Images)
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source: Getty Images
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few (Getty Images)

Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

GONZAGA PROMISES TO: Get Kevin Pangos more shot attempts within the offense.

  • It will happen because: Pangos is currently averaging 7.2 field goal attempts per game, three fewer attempts than he averaged as a junior (10.3), and he’s averaged at least nine attempts per game in each of his first three seasons at Gonzaga. Thus far Pangos has attempted ten shots or more in just two games (SMU and Arizona), and his scoring average (10.8 ppg) is more than three points below his average of a season ago (14.4). But it must be noted that Pangos’ percentages are up, as he’s currently shooting 48.8% from the field, 42 percent from three and 89.3% from the foul line while also averaging 4.9 assists per game (3.6 apg in 2013-14).
  • It won’t happen because: He’s their best distributor and with freshman Josh Perkins out of the lineup with a broken jaw, Pangos’ ability to get the ball to his teammates in spots where they can be most successful is more important than him getting shots. Plus, this is where Gonzaga’s improved depth and increased number of scoring options come into play. Kyle Wiltjer has been the impact transfer many expected him to be before the season began, Przemek Karnowski’s improved in the post and the addition of newcomers such as Byron Wesley and Domantas Sabonis have helped as well. Add in fellow senior Gary Bell Jr., and there’s no need to fret over how many shots Pangos is getting.

GONZAGA ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Have issues getting to the foul line in conference play.

  • It will happen because: Interestingly enough getting to the foul line has been even more of an issue this season than it was in 2013-14, with Gonzaga’s free throw rate dropping from 41.2 to 35.4. One key in this area is Karnowski, whose individual free throw rate has dropped from 75.8 to 24.2. Gonzaga’s schedule in non-conference play has presented some matchups with teams better equipped to defend their big men without fouling, and with Wiltjer being more perimeter-oriented he hasn’t gotten to the line much either.
  • It won’t happen because: Even with the Bulldogs rating as one of the nation’s best offensive teams with regards to both field goal percentage and efficiency, there’s still room for this team to grow on that end of the floor. More game action together guys will have an even better idea of where each player is most capable of having an impact offensively, which should lead to more opportunities to get to the foul line. Add in the fact that they’re in a conference that doesn’t have another team ranked in the Top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com, and that should also benefit the Bulldogs moving forward.

No. 9 Gonzaga’s improvement defensively is why people should buy their Final Four potential

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few (Getty Images)
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Gonzaga head coach Mark Few (Getty Images)

TUCSON — In winning 29 games a season ago, No. 9 Gonzaga was able to combine a solid offensive attack with a level of play on the defensive end that was better than many had grown accustomed to seeing. From an efficiency standpoint Gonzaga ranked 15th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com, the program’s best ranking in that category during Mark Few’s tenure as head coach, and they also limited opponents to 39.8% shooting from the field and 31.8% shooting from beyond the arc.

Yet even with those numbers being what they were there was doubt regarding the Bulldogs’ chances of beating the nation’s best teams, as their overall schedule lacked opportunities against high-level competition. Gonzaga would play just one game against a ranked team last season, and that was their loss to Arizona in the NCAA tournament.

With that, and the fact that the Bulldogs haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2009, there are some skeptics when it comes to discussing this current group’s chances of making a run at the program’s first Final Four appearance. However if there’s anything to be taken from their tough 66-63 overtime loss at No. 3 Arizona, it’s that the Bulldogs should be considered every bit capable of doing just that.

The biggest reason why: this group has defended at a level that most of Few’s past Gonzaga teams have been incapable of reaching.

And even though there was certainly a high level of respect for Gonzaga ahead of their meeting Saturday, Arizona head coach Sean Miller noticed a difference in Few’s squad.

“We played Gonzaga because they’re one of the great programs in college basketball,” Miller said following the win. “And to be candid I didn’t anticipate them having even as good of a team as they have, because adding [Domantas] Sabonis and Byron Wesley as late as they did gives them, to me, that ‘next level’ type of team.”

Of course the way in which Gonzaga finished that game, scoring just one field goal over the final 9:05, wasn’t pretty. But even with that drought the Bulldogs were right in there, going toe-to-toe with an Arizona team that’s been afforded the respect worthy of a national title contender. Gonzaga’s defense, even with Arizona shooting 60 percent from the field in the second half, had a lot to do with that. Arizona broke even in assist-to-turnover ratio (13 assists, 13 turnovers), and for the game they shot just over 44 percent from the field.

And those numbers were far superior to what Gonzaga was able to produce during the teams’ NCAA tournament game last season.

On that day Arizona beat Gonzaga by the final score of 84-61, and the fact of the matter is that the game wasn’t all that close. The Wildcats led by as much as 28 on that day, limiting the Bulldogs to 40.7% shooting and forcing 21 Gonzaga turnovers. Arizona was even better offensively, shooting 49.2% from the field and racking up 24 assists to just six turnovers.

“Last year they destroyed us in the NCAA tournament, but it’s a different year and a different team,” Gonzaga junior center Przemek Karnowski told NBCSports.com after the game. “We remembered that we were simply destroyed by them, and I think we really fought [Saturday].”

For Gonzaga, the improved health of guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. and Few having more options to turn two are the differences between last season and this one. Thanks in part to the addition of the likes of Sabonis, Wesley and Kyle Wlitjer the Bulldogs are more diverse offensively, with Wiltjer giving them a four capable of stepping out onto the perimeter and Wesley filling a void on the wing the Bulldogs were unable to adequately address in 2013-14.

Gonzaga didn’t shoot as well as they would have liked Saturday, with Wiltjer needing 16 shot attempts to score 15 points and Pangos limited to eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. Yet even with that being the case, their defense not only kept the Bulldogs afloat but also had them in position to earn what would have been one of the most impressive wins of the season to date.

Will Gonzaga need to do a better job of finding quality looks down the stretch? Yes, but it isn’t as if that was a serious issue entering Saturday’s game. Against Arizona the Bulldogs encountered challenges they’d yet to face this season, and despite not playing their best Gonzaga nearly overcame them. In the end Gonzaga went home with a loss, but they also returned to Spokane with experiences that will only help them as the season wears on.

“It’s a great experience,” Few noted. “Obviously we wanted to finish it off, and we felt like we should have finished it off. We just let it slip away. We’ve been scheduling games like this since I’ve been the head coach.

“That’s what college basketball is all about.”

Despite the outcome, the question of whether or not this current group of Bulldogs was equipped to take on such a test was answered in the affirmative.