Gonzaga found themselves in a Gator-infested swamp, in the not so friendly confines of the HP Field House.
An obviously pro-Florida crowd was on hand at Friday night’s game, which made a noticeable impact on the Bulldogs.
For the second night in a row, the Zags had issues with protecting the basketball, and in the first half alone, they had a whopping 11 turnovers.
But the Bulldogs overcame their issues on both offense and defense to put together a hard fought 77-72 win over the Florida Gators.
Head coach Mark Few said he was upset with the amount of turnovers committed by his team Wednesday night against Quinnipiac. Thursday he saw more of the same.
“We were just a mess in the first half,” he said. “We weren’t being very strong sticking with the plan.”
It took a shot to the mouth in the first half for the Zags to reset their game plan.
The team came out in the second half and cut into the Gator’s lead, but the score went back and forth for most of the half with Florida battling to not relinquish their lead.
It wasn’t until a 3 from Silas Melson with 8:37 left in the second half that the Zags were finally able to take their first lead of the game. There were multiple ties and a few opportunities for GU to take the lead, but it was Melson who finally gave them the advantage.
Both coach Few and redshirt sophomore Josh Perkins noted Melson as a player who helped the Zags turn the corner late in the second half.
“Silas stepped up and I have been on him and on him and on him to do that, and I think he is a more confident player this year,” Few said.
Melson came into the game off the bench for the second straight game, after starting the first three regular season games. Few was happy with the resolve he showed during the game.
“I was proud of him because he didn’t start off the game well,” Few said.
As players started to feed off of each other, the Zags found their rhythm.
A couple of 3s from Melson, a put-back dunk from Zach Collins and suffocating defense gave the Bulldogs the semifinal win over the Gators.
“We dug deep as a team and took care of the ball in the second half and we did what it took to get the W,” Perkins said.
Coach Few put his own spin on the outcome.
“There was blood in the water and they were circling but we were able to put that aside and get back into attack mode,” Few said.
Perkins stepping up
Perkins has been putting up big numbers for the Zags since coming off of his two-game suspension earlier this season.
In the last three games, he averaged over 15 points, and has been a calming influence for a team that has had issues with turnovers. His leadership was needed in this game when the Zags were pressing too hard on offense. It wasn’t until the second half when the Bulldogs kicked it into gear.
“I thought Perkins was outstanding,” coach Few said. “I thought in the second half he was kind of the catalyst for getting us into offense.”
Going into the season, a lot of people were looking for Perkins to take the next step in his development and so far on this young season, flashes of brilliance are shining through.
Foul trouble an issue
Three Zags fouled out of this game — Killian Tillie, Przemek Karnowski and Nigel Williams-Goss — and two more had three fouls. It all added up to be 24 personal fouls and a headache for coach Few.
But as tough as it is to have so many fouls, this GU team looks more prepared to handle the losses on the court than in past seasons.
“This one can probably absorb it as well as any,” Few said. “We are deep and somewhat balanced.”
“We knew before the game we would go through a lot of adversity, but coach Few said you have to stick together,” Johnathan Williams said.
For the second game in a row, the Zags have recognized their issues with gelling together. The Bulldogs seemed flustered in the first half until the break. The coaching staff seemed to understand the team full of new faces will not be perfect right away. There seems to be an underlying aura of confidence around the team before all of the pieces fit into the right place.
This was only the third time the Zags have faced the Gators and GU now holds a 2-1 series lead. The first game of the series was the 1999 West Regional NCAA semifinal when Casey Calvary tipped in the winning bucket.
The Bulldogs are now 33-2 in November games since 2011.
For the third time in three tries, the Zags are in the final game of the AdvoCare Invitational (formally known as the Old Spice Classic) — they won the previous two.
The Bulldogs will play Iowa State in the championship game on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on ESPN.
Iowa State is currently No. 21 in the NCAA AP poll. The team just finished an easy game against Miami (73-56).
Coach Few described the team as a veteran squad that he thinks will send out a small lineup against the Zags.
“[They] know how to win, they have won a lot of games and have been in a lot of big games,” he said.