Zags showing signs of getting back on track
SPOKANE (AP) - Gonzaga has not dominated early-season opponents like so many Bulldogs teams of the past, but progress is being made.
Playing without injured scoring leader Steven Gray, Gonzaga rode its first three-game winning streak of the season into the Christmas break after downing Xavier 64-54 on Wednesday night.
"We're now starting to find our roles," said Robert Sacre, who led the Bulldogs with a season-high 22 points.
"We lost some tough games at the beginning. We kind of didn't know our roles yet. We're still young, but we can't make any excuses."
Elias Harris added 13 points and a season-high 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs (7-5).
Tu Holloway, the only other player on either team with more than nine points, led Xavier (7-3) with 26 points and a career-high five steals. Holloway also had a game-high seven turnovers.
The physical contest included 48 fouls, 59 free throws and 41 turnovers. Xavier shot just 33.3 percent from the field and had season highs of 27 fouls and 18 turnovers.
"That was our game plan, to go inside and be physical," Sacre said.
The Bulldogs made 23 turnovers, but coach Mark Few said he was delighted to win with Gray sidelined by a sore back.
"It's an awesome win," Few said. "We had to go through a lot of adversity to have to play without Steven for a full 40 minutes against a team with the type of guards that Xavier has."
The Bulldogs benefited from strong play by several reserves, including Mathis Keita. The freshman guard scored five points in a season-high 22 minutes and contributed energetic defense.
"The effort he brings in practice, it's a one-of-a-kind type of thing," Sacre said. "I'm so proud of him, the way he stepped up."
The Musketeers quickly fell behind 12-4 and trailed 34-23 at the half.
"We just weren't ready from the (start), and they jumped out on us," Holloway said. "We were coming back, we were fighting back, but we played a good team."
Xavier coach Chris Mack said he was disappointed with his team's lack of energy early in the game. Gonzaga had an 8-0 advantage in offensive rebounds in the first half.
“Give Gonzaga credit,” Mack said. “They’re a big, physical team around the basket.”
Holloway sank 13 of 14 free throws, but teammates missed five straight free throws after Xavier led 37-36 early in the second half. That was the Musketeers’ only lead after the early minutes of the game.
Gonzaga shot just 38.1 percent from the field and had 23 turnovers and 21 fouls. However, the Bulldogs shot a season-best 88.2 percent at the line, with season highs of 34 attempts and 30 made free throws.
Sacre sank all 10 of his free throws, and Harris went 9 for 10 at the line.
Few lauded the inside defense of Sacre and Harris. They helped hold Xavier center Kenny Frease scoreless in his first game since scoring a career-high 22 points against Wake Forest.