When your opponents walk-on, backup, point guard hits a half court shot, things probably aren't going your teams way. Gonzaga played about as well as they can play for 30 minutes, and the Pokes... well... the 4 hour flight must have jet-lagged the "make open shots", and "play sound defense" right out of them... and it didn't help that Gonzaga was hitting everything.
If you didn't see the game, you probably are looking at the box score and saying, "Hey Sam, you are a dildo, the Zags weren't that hot, they only shot 45% from the field". And to that I respond with, "Sure they shot 45% for the game, but that was after an icy cold 3-17 start through the first 10 minutes. For the last 30 minutes of game time the Zags made 21 of 36 shots, which is good for 59%. Oh, and for the game they shot 39% from behind the arc, which is solid on its own, but it gets ridiculous when you realize that they started the game 1 for 8 from three (again in those first 10 minutes), and made 6 of 10 the rest of the way (I will let you calculate the shooting percentage for that one)."
While the Zags were making plenty of low-percentage shots, we can't totally let the Cowboy defense off the hook here. They were often slow to react, and the give and go's and backdoor cuts in particular where just killing them. They switched to a 2-3 Zone a few times but that just made things worse. Every Cowboy watched the ball because they weren't comfortable just covering their areas which lead to plenty of openings for cutters, and the Zags had enough good passers to take advantage.
Takeaways after the Jump
As for what to take away from a game like this...
- It isn't proof that the Cowboys are terrible. We suffered a similar defeat last season at Tulsa and bounced back just fine from it.
- The Pokes need to learn from Gonzaga's killer instinct. That is probably what I was most impressed by with the Zags... once they got out to a double digit lead, they kept it there, and stretched it. There have been so many games this year where the Cowboys have needed that extra gear to put a game out of reach and just couldn't do it... maybe being on the receiving end of a team that can will wake them up. Even in this game, there was a point in the first half where the Cowboys were up 18-11 and controlling the game. But instead of stretching that lead they allowed an 11-2 run from which the Zags never looked back. On the other side, there was a point midway through the 2nd half where the Bulldogs were up 24, and the Cowboys went on a little 7-0 run to get it to 17 and it looked like they might close the gap. So what happened, Gray buried an open three on the next possession to get the lead back to 20 and kill the momentum. The Pokes need this gear.
- Disclaimer: This point has nothing to do with my borderline creepy crush on this player, this is purely a tactical decision. Markel Brown should be getting 30 minutes a game, and on top of that, he should be running the offense. I know he is a true frosh, I know he is inconsistent, and I know that there will be growing pains, but watching Ray Penn drive to spots he can't do anything from, and Keiton Page force passes that aren't there, we can't do any worse. Watching Brown initiate the offense 5 or so times last night when he would pull down rebounds and push the ball was like a breath of fresh air. He sees weaknesses in the defense that Penn and Page don't, his passing is superb at times, and every decision he makes has a purpose. He probably isn't a PG, but Penn or Page can bring the ball up then hand off to Brown to run the half-court offense... he would basically be playing a Point-Wing position (if that is such a thing), kinda like how Kobe or Wade often run their teams offenses since the Lakers and Heat lack a great PG. I just see so much potential in Brown, and there is such a need for someone to run this show, why not roll the dice with the most purely talented guy on the team and see if it works?
One last note: 5-14 on free throws? That is unacceptable. I wouldn't blame those misses for the loss, but... in the 2nd half between the 8 and 4 minutes timeouts there was a stretch where the Zags didn't score at all, and the Pokes missed 4 straight FT (Pilgrim and Brown), then Penn rattled out a 3. Those all dropping would have taken it to an 11 point lead with 3 and a half minutes left which would have been doable... not likely, but possible. Those are the kind of shots we have to hit (especially the FTs) if we want any chance of playing catchup against a team this good.
The Cowboys close out the non-conference portion of the schedule on Monday at home against the Texas-SA Road Runners. A perfect tune up for Kansas State who will be in GIA next Saturday.