Game Notes: Gonzaga at Xavier
Bulldogs capture their sixth straight win.
by Cub Buenning / @cubbuenning
— The last time I was in Cincinnati also involved Xavier basketball, but then the year was 1995, and I was playing college ball against the Musketeers and a then-dreadlocked Brian Grant at the old Cincinnati Gardens. The team now plies their collective trade at the Cintas Center, a beautiful 10,250-seat on-campus facility that has both size and intimacy.
— With two loaded collegiate teams, it’s no surprise that there are scouts from seven NBA teams (including Miami, Houston, Orlando, Portland, Cleveland and Austin Ainge from Boston).
— Sixty minutes prior to tip I grab Xavier star guard, Tu Holloway (who I had spoken with a couple days earlier by phone). He couldn’t have been a nicer or cooler guy. On the phone, he shocked me a bit by with “I look forward to meeting you this weekend.” In person I shocked him with my (6-8) height, “Wow, I didn’t think you were going to be so tall!”
— After opening night at the Pepsi Center for Nuggets/Jazz, I am quickly reminded of my disdain for pumped-in arena music. Give me the pep band, dammit.
— I have been dabbling lately in the talk-radio and play-by-play game and was impressed with the five minutes given to me by ESPN’s voice for the night, John Sciambi. Quality dude, great voice and could not have been nicer. The fact that he is calling the game with former Nugget, LaPhonso Ellis adds to the dopeness of the crew on the call. I’m also seated next to the Gonzaga radio crew, which includes former Zags guard, Matt Santangelo.
— Also informed that despite the student body still being on holiday break, this one will be a sell-out. Also, this one will be the first game for Xavier with their full roster since the suspension-filled brawl with Cincinnati.
— Seriously though, this is going to be a game between a freshman backcourt (Kevin Pangos/Gary Bell Jr and a senior one (Holloway/Mark Lyons). Advantage?
— Very physical start to this one, as Xavier is force-feeding it early to big man Kenny Frease. Musketeer guard Mark Lyons is forcing the issue a bit, as well, with little success. Actually kind of surprised that the visitors from Spokane are winning the early battles.
— Just as I type the previous entry, Lyons hits back-to-back shots. Fun start to this one; 12-11 Gonzaga, seven minutes in.
— The Gonzaga roster has to be the most international friendly one in the nation, surely more foreigners than Americans on the team.
— Holloway doing a lot of “proper” talking/pleading with the refs on the offensive end. Doesn’t help as he draws a ticky-tacky one (his second) on the defensive end with 12 to play in first half.
— Xavier has the coolest “sign-language” advantage in the country with the ability to cross arms for the “X” sign.
— The greatest Zag ever, John Stockton, has a son, David. The younger Stockton is knocking down threes to give the Zags a 7-point first-half lead. Like his dad, the release is a bit unorthodox. Oddly enough, the team’s sharp-shooter, Pangos, can’t hit the broad side of a southern Ohio barn.
— Gonzaga appears ready to pull away at times during the first half, but the physical nature of the Musketeers’ will is keeping this one close; 30-28 with 3 minutes left.
— Mark Lyons hits the “dieing breed” pull-up jumper at the free-throw line to knot things at 30. Zags coach Mark Few is not happy. Although, the coach’s stoically calm demeanor rarely reflects anger.
— With Holloway saddled with early foul trouble, freshman Dee Davis has gotten a lot of playing time. And a constant encouraging voice in his ear from Lyons.
— Gonzaga has a nice finish to grab a 35-31 lead. They hit 5-12 from beyond the arc, the Muskies hit just 1-7; the difference so far. Balance too, as nine Zags have gotten into the scorer’s book.
— There is a guy who legitimately has made a career from “Simon Says.” And it’s pretty fun. Making fun of adults who can’t listen is entertaining.
— I’m pretty surprised how absent Robert Sacre has been in this game, so far. Meanwhile, his 7-foot counterpart, Kenny Frease is finding plenty of open spaces.
— The Musketeers using physical pressure to get their first lead in some time at 42-41.
— X still struggling from long-range, while Sam Dower hits back-to-back jumpers.
— At this rate of offensive success for Xavier, they should just give the ball to Gonzaga and full-court press them. The Muskies seem to be getting all their points off defensive pressure.
— Sam Dower hits his third straight; Gonzaga by two, 46-44. Crowd is really starting to get revved up.
— Dower promptly air-balls a wide-open 8-footer, but backs it up with two straight buckets (one being a three from the top of the key). Dower is listed at 6-9 but doesn’t look much shorter than Frease. Dower has 12 in this half and now 18 for the game! Zags lead 54-50 with just over nine minutes remaining.
— Gonzaga refuses to use the glass on runners and short wing shots. I can think of three misfires this half that should have been banked home.
— Elias Harris knocks down a three to make it a seven-point advantage at the under-8 break. Long-range shooting might just be the difference in this one. GU-7-14. X-2-13. ‘Nuff said.
— Xavier needs Lyons/Tu to step up BADLY! On cue, a patient offensive possession yields a Lyons driving lay-up.
— Freshman Dee Davis hits a rainbow three-pointer from the baseline with just over 3 minutes to play to make it 63-59 Gonzaga. Just what the doctor ordered.
— On the other side, the Zags run down the shot-clock and Pangos buries a deep three. Still time left, but that might be the dagger… 66-59, 2:30 left.
— Not hitting shots (both open and contested) is going to be the “death” of Xavier tonight, as Holloway misses a runner and Lyons blows a wide-open three-pointer. They are still alive, though, down 5 with one minute remaining.
— Pangos turns it over going over-and-back the half-court stripe, but Tu rims out a deep three. Cue broken record… “X can’t make shots.”
— Game goes final at 72-65 with Xavier shooting and pressing the issue like they were the road team. Great win for Gonzaga.
— Although the semi-inebriated guy behind me thinks it is a different holiday, “Happy Birthday Gonzaga!” Happy New Year works for me.
Post-game stats tell the story. Dower finished his career game with 20 and 10. Gonzaga went 8-19 from long-range; Xavier just 3-18. The visitors also dominated the glass with a 44-31 advantage.