Gonzaga coach Mark Few, much like his team against San Francisco on Saturday, went back and forth.
He had plenty of praise for his players’ efforts in a hard-fought 82-73 win, but he couldn’t go all in because nearly every comment carried a caveat.
It was that kind of game.
The Zags led by 18 early but USF rallied to tie it at 45. They rebuilt a 10-point advantage only to see the lead trimmed to three. They finished off the visitors with a combination of clutch free-throw shooting (8 of 8 in final 2:43) and timely defense. USF had one turnover and missed its last four shots, three swatted or redirected by forward Johnathan Williams.
Asked if his second-half play was a matter of a senior stepping up, Williams offered a different take. “It shouldn’t get like that,” he said. “I think we get too relaxed and too offense-sensitive sometimes. We have to make sure defense comes first and make sure we get stops.”
Those were often in short supply against the Dons, who, even with the closing dry spell, shot 55 percent in the second half and 51 percent overall. They’re the fourth GU opponent to crack 50 percent, joining North Dakota (51.7), Villanova (51.7) and Saint Mary’s (56.6).
“Nearly every time we missed one of our attention to details they hit a 3 or cut us for a layup,” said Few, noting that USF’s schemes present numerous challenges. “That last 4-5 minutes we dug in and got some good stops to get enough separation to get it done.”
The Zags’ second-half offensive numbers were better than USF’s, but their defensive lapses were hard to ignore. Rui Hachimura had 12 of his 14 points in the second half, but he appeared to miss at least two defensive assignments that resulted in Dons’ 3-pointers.
“That’s kind of what you’re wrestling with over on the bench,” Few said.
Williams, like Hachimura, did most of his damage in the second half with 13 of his 16 points. Josh Perkins had 11 points, four assists, two steals and just one turnover, but it came with 4:25 left and USF capitalized with a 3-pointer to pull within 72-68.
“It’s very important (to have an experienced player deliver late), but again we needed that in the first half and for whatever reason he just kind of slept through first half and was back on his heels,” Few said of Williams. “Perk has flashes of brilliance and then we just kind of lose the ball for no reason.
“We just need to tighten some things up, trust the process and mentally stay dialed in for an entire possession. I thought they scored a lot of baskets in the last five seconds of a possession. We’d guard, guard, guard and we just wouldn’t quite finish off the play.”
The Zags’ search for consistency continues this week at the McCarthey Athletic Center against fourth-place San Diego on Thursday and third-place BYU on Saturday.
“With this year’s team, yes, it’s most definitely getting the good parts of their game all the time, (that) has been very difficult with this group,” Few said. “At the same time, we’re 9-1 (in conference), 19-4 (overall). They’re representing themselves, the program and the team very well.”
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