No. 23 Gonzaga Hangs on Against Washington State in Season Opener
When you're hot, you're hot.
Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos, in his first collegiate start, tied a Gonzaga school record by connecting on nine three-point field goals and led the the Bulldogs with 33 points in a 89-81 victory over the Washington State Cougars.
Pangos, a Canada native, carried Gonzaga in the first half with 18 points while its lone senior and leader, Robert Sacre, saw only three minutes after picking up two early fouls.
For Washington State, it was playing its first game without last year's conference scoring leader Klay Thompson and early on its offense had no rhythm—a lot of standing around, passing the ball around the perimeter and forcing bad shots, which found the Cougars in a hole early. Their first field goal didn't come until the 14:55 mark on a Faisal Aden jump shot making the score 8-3.
With Pangos and fellow freshman Gary Bell, Jr. combining to go 8-of-12 from three-point land and a combined 25 points in the first half, the Bulldogs held a comfortable 42-31 halftime lead.
Along with hot shooting, the Bulldogs dominated the glass, especially on the offensive end, giving themselves ample second-chance opportunities and they made sure to cash them in.
For the Cougars, they discovered a new toy on the offensive end by the name of Brock Motum. The junior showed nimble feet and soft hands around the basket and led the Cougars with 10 points in the first half.
The second half was a tale of two halves in itself as the Bulldogs continued their hot shooting. Combine that with Washington State turnovers on multiple possessions on multiple occasions and Gonzaga built a 21-point lead only to see it get cut all the way down to three in the closing minutes before hanging on with clutch free throws.
Gonzaga did not make a field goal in the last 5:12 of the game.
For the Cougars, it was an impressive showing with so many questions coming in. Newcomers Mike Ladd and DaVonte Lacy played huge roles late in the second half when the Cougars made their charge.
Two surprises caught my eye during this game.
One, D.J. Shelton did not start and played only six minutes as his minutes were mostly taken by Charlie Enquist, who was serviceable but did not fill up the stat sheet.
The second and more surprising occurrence was Aden was nowhere to be seen in the second half when the Cougars made a game out of it.
In the first half, Aden had seven points with questionable shot selection and led the team with six rebounds but played sparingly throughout the second period. Maybe head coach Ken Bone felt like going with the hot hands in Ladd and Lacy along with Reggie Moore coming on strong despite playing with a groin injury.
The story to take away, though, is Motum and his team-high 17 points.
Doris Burke of ESPN sang his praises throughout the broadcast and said his confidence level was soaring and he needed to get the ball more. Last season, he definitely took a backseat to the now-departed DeAngelo Casto and played few minutes and was not very productive—at least not as productive as he was capable of being. No doubt in my mind that even last year he was better offensively than Casto, but his deficiencies on the glass were too big to be ignored.
Along with the 17 points, Motum grabbed a team-high and a career-high eight rebounds and most notably showed explosiveness when taking his man off the dribble and flushing a thunderous dunk late in the first half that Burke called "special."
Motum played a career-high 37 minutes, including the entire second half, and if he can get a little more physical while playing defense on the inside, the gap left by Casto might not be so noticeable.
Another thing that caught my eye was how the Cougar played musical chair with their uniform numbers.
Moore changed from last year having worn No. 3 and now wears No. 1, which was Thompson's number during his three years in Pullman. Lacy now occupies the No. 3 jersey. And Shelton did his best Casto impression by wearing Casto's old No. 23, but that was the only similarities those two shared on this night.
As a team, the Cougars looked young with 13 turnovers, and they came in bunches at the most inopportune times.
However, with that youth came hope that maybe this team will be able to shock a few teams in the Pac-12.
The Cougars played without senior Abe Lodwick, who's nursing a foot injury he suffered in practice last week. Lodwick started 32 games for them last season.
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