Gonzaga had not lost two home games within an eight-day stretch since 2007, when Santa Clara and Memphis knocked them off in back-to-back contests.
Until Saturday, that is.
The Bulldogs fell at the Kennel to UCLA by the score of 71-66. Tony Parker led the way for the Bruins, making 8 of 9 shots for 16 points. Isaac Hamilton also had 20 points in the win, while senior Kyle Wiltjer scored 20 of his own in the loss.
Many of the same problems that have crept up over the last two weeks for Mark Few’s club reared their ugly heads against UCLA. Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, who scored 18 points and had eight rebounds, were again terrific. However, they got very little help from the supporting cast, which clearly misses the presence of big man Przemek Karnowski on both ends.
The lack of composure from the guards has been problematic all season, and it came up again here. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, and Kyle Dranginis combined to go 5-22 from the field with four turnvoers. Eric McClellan had a pretty nice day with 14 points on 5-11 shooting, but he also turned it over three times. There might not be a team in the country that misses a graduated player more right now than Gonzaga misses the departed Kevin Pangos.
Karnowski’s absence is also a major issue. He does so much to plug the holes that the Zags are clearly showing right now. On offense, he can take on some of the playmaking burden from the guards as he’s a terrific passer both of the low and the high post. And defensively, he’s one of the best rim protectors in the country. You can just ask Washington and Texas A&M about that, who shot 28.2 and 36.4 percent from within eight feet of the rim respectively against Gonzaga this year. If he’s in the lineup, it’s highly unlikely Parker goes 8 of 9 from the field.
It’s up in the air as to when Karnowski will get back. There’s no timetable, according to Mark Few, as the back spasms that are ailing Karnowski are still a major issue. While he’s out, there needs to be significant growth from the supporting cast. Otherwise, upcoming games against Tennessee and Pepperdine are loseable ones.
On the other side, what a bounce back from the Bruins. This team was 3-3 after it left Maui, but is now sitting at 7-3 with wins over Gonzaga, Kentucky and UNLV — all of whom could be considered favorites to win their respective conferences at the moment. Arizona is still probably the favorite in the Pac-12 to me due to its defense, and Oregon could be right there with them when it gets everyone back healthy. But beyond those two, it’s hard to put anyone ahead of the Bruins, and it wouldn’t be crazy for them to sneak into that rung by the time the season ended. A good job by Steve Alford and that coaching staff not letting this team quit early in the year after some setbacks.