by Paul Casey Gotham
The last 28 days have been something of a penance for Mark Few and his Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs improved to 7-0 with a hard-fought 74-52 victory over Tony Bennett’s defensive-minded Washington St. Cougars on Dec. 10.
At that point the tiny Jesuit school in the Northwest found themselves amongst the nation’s elite—North Carolina, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh.
Wins over Maryland, Oklahoma St., Tennessee, and Indiana helped Gonzaga rise to number four in the nation.
Since then the Bulldogs have impersonated Wall Street and dropped into oblivion.
Four losses in five games have spelled the demise of the Zags.
Arizona brought Gonzaga back to reality with a 69-64 defeat.
Okay—Mark Few had no designs on an undefeated season for his team. They will recover.
Six days later the Zags had a three-point lead over UConn with :25 remaining, only to gag away the lead and lose in overtime.
Searching for a Bloody Mary to cure their hangover, Gonzaga hoped Portland St. would be just the elixir. That is until the Vikings put a 77-70 hurting on them.
Gonzaga hoped to usher in the New Year with a victory. Utah spoiled any such celebration with a 66-65 defeat.
Since then the Zags have heard their fair share of criticism: overrated, too ambitious, putting together a difficult schedule with far too much travel.
Mark Few has heard it all.
The first half of Wednesday night’s game in Knoxville, Tennessee seemed to only add to the misery.
Cameron Tatum helped the Vols build an early 15-point lead.
Symptomatic of Gonzaga’s problems was Jeremy Pargo’s first 20:00.
The senior point guard’s line at half: two points on one for six shooting, two rebounds, five turnovers, and zero assists.
Just a few months removed from dabbling with the NBA Draft, Pargo looked ready to play CYO ball.
Gonzaga’s once promising season seemed barely capable of a pulse. Coach Few needed an AED, and he found one.
Vol fans hoping to chant "Rocky Top" throughout the second half instead witnessed a revival.
Pargo dished out six assists and dropped eight points, and Matt Bouldin added 14 as the Zags exploited Tennessee’s weakness in an 89-79 overtime victory.
When Gonzaga topped the Vols earlier this season, they shot 55 percent from behind the arc. That advantage seemed close to nonexistent for much of the first half, as the Zags did not connect from long range for the first 13 minutes.
Four different Bulldogs—Ira Brown, Josh Heytvelt, Steven Gray, and Bouldin—connected in the final 7:00 of the first half.
That was just the beginning, as Gonzaga poured in six more trifectas in the remaining 25:00.
Bouldin led all scorers with 26.
The Vols were 6 for 28 (21.4 percent) from three-point land.
Mark Few seems to have found the pulse of his team. Gonzaga is alive and well.