Friday, January 30, 2009

Gonzaga vs. St. Mary'sthoughts

Hoo boy, did I have to stay up late to catch this one. It was worth it. For a while.

What a gyp. Watching the first half of this game depressed me more than a little bit, since in terms of quality of play this game took a freaking switch to the backside of ESPN primetime offerings like Iowa-Michigan St. and Rutgers-Seton Hall. Fast pace and precise play by both teams, an electric atmosphere, future NBA studs on both sides, and of course Patty Mills throwing long-distance haymaker after haymaker to give the Gaels an eight-point lead and have them on the cusp of a season-defining win ... I mean, none of that depressed me. It was exhilarating stuff, actually, maybe the best half of basketball I've watched all year. It just depresses me I had to wait 'til 11 Eastern to watch it.

Of course, then Mills hurt his wrist and the second half was nothing more than a long, slow bleed of bricked Gaels threes and deflected entry passes as Simpson and Samhan became more and more visibly frustrated to the point I thought they were about to pick up the ball at midcourt and dribble into the post their own damn selves. In short, it wasn't nearly as much fun, and the only reason for it was Mills's freak injury.

Good Lord, hit a three. Last time I wrote about St. Mary's I noted that Mills would need to start hitting open threes to really open up the Gael offense. He went 6-of-8 from deep before leaving so, uh, mission accomplished on that end. Too bad everyone else went 3-of-19 (mmmmm, 16 percent) despite the fact there were moments in the second half when all five Gonzaga defenders could reach out and touch one of either Samhan or Simpson in the post. Those two went--get this--a combined 11-of-13 from the field, but neither one got more than 7 shots because Carlin Hughes and Clint Steindl were busy begging the Zags to collapse by hitting zero threes in nine attempts.

As always. The firm of Simpson and Samhan, LLP, was straight wrecking fools again until Mills's injury and the horrid shooting choked the last bit of space for them off of the floor. Simpson finished with 17 and 12 and abused Austin Daye on both ends on more than one occasion. I know Daye's the alleged NBA prospect, but if I'm playing a pickup game tomorrow and choosing between the two I take Simpson, twice if I can. Samhan threw himself around with usual abandon and even hit a couple of nice midrange J's, but he just never ogt enough post touches to really put his stamp on the game. Not his fault.

Exercise in frustration. Even after all these years of Gonzaga being a kind of somewhat-less-successful UNLV back in their Big West days or a West Coast version of modern-day Memphis, I still like the Zags. Like their student section's fervor, like Mark Few's loyalty, like that they attract and let loose college classics like Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, or my current favorite Zag, floppy-haired point Matt Bouldin. (Who should go to the rack in transition approximately 10 times more often than he does.)

But man, I just can't shake the nagging feeling every single time I watch these guys that they ought to be so much better than they are. Heytvelt is a force in the post when he actually bothers to post up and receives a pass; instead he spends most of the game tooling around between the post and the arc and putting up jumpers. Jeremy Pargo still can't figure out the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, especially in transition. Daye and Bouldin could be twice as aggressive and it wouldn't be aggressive enough. I just never get the sense that these guys--or any of the last several post-Morrison iterations of Gonzaga--are a team, a cohesive whole that's even within shouting distance of the sum of its parts. Look at the assist numbers: the Zags are chockful of good passers, with Pargo, Bouldin, and even Heytvelt all plenty capable of dropping the unexpected dime, and yet they only assisted on 7 of their 24 baskets last night. Unless they learn to play better with others, I don't see this group having any more success this March than they've had the past couple.

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