SPOKANE – Around every corner this season, there seem to be falling objects awaiting the Gonzaga basketball team. So it was natural that even after a rousing 84-69 victory over Brigham Young here Saturday night, Mark Few briefly assumed the role of Debbie Downer.
The Zags, it seems, have become whole again, or as whole as they’re going to be in the disjointed 2013-14 season. So players like transfers Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez, who helped plug leaks during a recent siege of injuries, now must rediscover roles unless somebody expands college basketball games to 50 minutes.
“We’ve got to find ways to keep those guys engaged and helping us, and at the same time, play the guys that have been there, done that,” said Few, the Gonzaga coach.
It will be a challenge, no doubt, just as it’s a challenge that the Zags — 18-3 and 8-1 through the first half of the West Coast Conference schedule — will finish with six of nine on the road.
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But those are hurdles for another day. This was a mostly blissful night for Few and his team and the 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center, especially the inspired denizens of the Kennel Club.
“I left the gym Thursday (after a 59-56 win over San Diego) thinking, man, it wasn’t as loud as it usually is,” said guard David Stockton. “Tonight, they just shut me up.”
Understand, it was a reciprocal agreement. Stockton had an excellent first half while his backcourt mates, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., were relatively noiseless, combining for a mere two baskets.
“I thought David absolutely carried us in the first half,” said Few. “Then in the second half, the two stars that have been here and played a lot and made big play after big play in their careers, played a great half.”
That would be Pangos and Bell. Pangos (24 points) banged five straight threes in the second half, and Bell, playing with a renewed aggressiveness after a six-game layoff with a broken hand, pulled the passion out of the crowd with a couple of end-to-end drives on a 14-point night.
“One play, when Przemek (Karnowski) got a rebound, it pretty much blew my eardrum, it was so loud,” said Bell. “Loudest I’ve ever heard it.”
Of Bell, Few said, “I think he was back feeling comfortable playing hard. He was on the floor a bunch, in the middle of some big-time collisions. He didn’t hesitate.”
Brigham Young came in off a disheartening, grueling triple-overtime loss at Portland on Thursday night, desperate for a breakthrough. Maybe the Cougars (13-9, 5-4) wore down in the second half, but more than anything, it appeared to be a case of Zag savvy in attacking the Brigham Young zone, and the combination of Pangos and Bell.
Gonzaga was hanging onto a tenuous 56-52 lead. Then, in a span of 56 seconds, Pangos hit a three, Bell went coast-to-coast for two free throws, and then Bell slapped a BYU pass away and corkscrewed his body for a three-point play and a 64-52 lead.
Pangos shrugged at his 1-for-5 first half, saying, “Every shot is a new shot for me.”
Stockton, referring to the penetrate-and-kick action to Pangos, said, “It’s a dagger every time.”
It was just after Bell’s own form of trifecta that Karnowski rebounded, Gonzaga fast-broke and the din at the MAC rose to legendary heights. It was as if to mock the WCC schedule that had Gonzaga playing its first four home games without students, who were on holiday break.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get four more of those,” said Few, talking full-throated home games. “Really a shame. If ever there was a place you would say, ‘Hey, you can’t look at that student section and not say you shouldn’t give them a full allotment of league games …’ It’s too good. It’s in the top three in the country, I would guess.”
The Zags themselves, well, they’re something far less than that. But in an edgy season with injuries, flu and a schedule that makes no sense, they’re still viable, still an item, and in this town, still worthy of a roaring crowd.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org