Gonzaga’s three games this season against Saint Mary’s have been its three least interesting games of the season.
GU fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Really, the only highlight of Monday night’s WCC semifinal was the emergence of David Stockton — who I have christened with the superhero moniker, SuperStocks. The next most exciting parts of the game were my mom’s chicken pot pie and, well, the other semifinal matchup between San Francisco and BYU.
But in order for the Zags to even have the chance to demolish the Gaels, they needed to beat Santa Clara. The Bulldogs didn’t beat Santa Clara by any stretch of the imagination, but they survived — by the skin of their teeth on a spinning game-winning layup by Stockton.
Despite the unorthodox methods, the Zags have earned a spot in the WCC Championship against BYU. Their style of play thus far may be a sign of things to come — not only on Tuesday night, but also in the NCAA Tourney.
Defense from guards must improve
What was worrisome about the Santa Clara game was the Zags’ backcourt defense. Jared Brownridge torched GU for 24 points and looked nearly unstoppable, especially in the first half. Even Gary Bell Jr., the Zags’ best defender and someone who can usually shut down opposing guards, couldn’t stop him. Neither could Stockton, but that’s not surprising considering that Brownridge is taller by three or four inches.
Yes, Brownridge hit some unbelievable shots and played the kind of game offensively that he may never be able to repeat. But in the NCAA Tournament, GU will match up with some of the best guards in the nation — guards who are a heck of a lot more talented, experienced and consistent than the freshman Brownridge.
Guards like Stockton, Kevin Pangos, Kyle Dranginis and Gerard Coleman haven’t exhibited the ability to consistently stay in front of their opponents on defense. Even if Bell can hold down his man, these other guards must be able to stop penetration into the lane from the rest of the opposing frontcourt.
Guard defense will be especially key in the NCAA Tourney, as Dower and Karnowski will have their hands full in the frontcourt and will not be as free to play help defense. Instead of guarding a mediocre power forward like Saint Mary’s Brad Waldow, Dower and Karnowski could be guarding big men from No. 1-seeded teams, like Syracuse’s Jerami Grant or Florida’s Patric Young, as early as the third round. If guards can penetrate far enough to force GU’s frontcourt to step up, the low post will be open all day for bounce passes, lobs, layups and dunks.
The importance of Stockton
Stockton’s effect on the Zags offensively cannot be understated.
With the senior as a threat to pass, shoot and drive, GU’s offense flows so much more effectively. While he won’t repeat his 21-point, six-rebound and four-assist effort from Monday in the WCC Championship, his ability to put points on the board opens up the floor for other Zags.
GU’s performance against the Cougars will hinge largely on Stockton, both offensively and defensively. He’ll need to keep his energy up enough to guard Matt Carlino or Kyle Collinsworth, keep getting to the free-throw line, and serve as a floor leader.
Takeaways from a worrisome WCC Tourney run for Zags
Gonzaga Bulletin | Mar 19