Gonzaga versus Memphis used to be one of mid-majordom's best non-conference series. These teams have met seven times, mostly during the first decade of this century. This season it's a little different. Memphis is no longer in a mid-major conference. This offseason the Tigers moved from Conference USA to another misnomer, the American Athletic Conference.
Memphis likes to get up and down the court. Gonzaga is exceptionally good at scoring. So, of course, it was 5-5, five minutes into the game.
It was a slow start that somehow became even slower. Gonzaga was held without points for nearly seven minutes. Przemek Karnowski threw a beautiful post feed to Sam Dower for an easy lay-up. That put an end to the drought and sparked a 10-0 Gonzaga run.
Facing a hyper-athletic team in Memphis, Mark Few pulled his best athlete out of the doghouse. Gerard Coleman came up huge for the Zags in the first half, with 10 points off the bench. He was having such a great night that the ball was bouncing his way. On a Gonzaga fast break the ball was deflected by Memphis and appeared to be flying out of bounds. Instead, a cutting Coleman found himself in the right place at the right time to make the save.
Coming out of the break, Gonzaga put the petal to the metal. Over the first few minutes they were scoring 2.17 points per possession on six of six shooting from the field.
Frontcourt play for the Zags was especially effective. Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski were absolutely shredding the Tigers in the paint.
The Tigers were not happy and they allowed their emotions to get the best of them.
Geron Johnson threw an elbow at Karnowski as the two were jogging in transition. Jay Bilas, who was calling the game, saw it, but no refs or coaches did. It went uncalled.
A few moments later Karnowski was back at it, going straight at the Memphis front line. He was backing down Dominic Woodson, who grabbed Karnowski by the shoulders and threw him to the ground. The tackle took place while Karnowski was shooting, and as a result the Zags missed their first shot of the half at the 15:06 mark.
The referees went to the monitors and decided to asses Woodson with a flagrant foul, he was promptly ejected.
It looked as if the Zags were set up to put an end to the game. On the next possession, Karnowski went up for a dunk. 6' 1" Joe Jackson went up to challenge 7' 1" Karnowski. Jackson successfully knocked the ball out of Karnowski's hands. Not only was that a game changing play, but it was one heck of a birthday present for Jackson.
That block sparked an 8-0 Memphis run. More over, the Zags were held scoreless for over five minutes. It was first half hero Gerard Coleman who would end the drought. He slashed to the rim on an inbounds for an easy lay-up to give to put the Zags back up six.
Memphis had the momentum and a raucous home crowd cheering them on. The Tigers kept chipping into the Zags' lead on the offensive end while getting stops and picking up fouls on defense.
Karnowski threw down a slam, on a play almost identical to the game changer, except Joe Jackson wasn't around. On the next possession, Sam Dower had a rebound and lay in that gave the Zags their last semi-comfortable lead of the game 52-43 with 5:15 left.
The Tigers just wouldn't go away but, the Zags would.
A Michael Dixon fast break lay-up with 1:07 left to play gave Memphis a 55-54 lead. The Tigers had not lead since being up 12-11 in the early going. The Zags called a stop-the-bleeding timeout.
Coming out of that timeout the Zags ran a play. I'm pretty sure Mark Few didn't draw up a shot clock violation, but that's what happened. Memphis by one, shot clock turned off. It was steal or foul territory for the shell-shocked Zags.
Memphis scored six straight points from the free throw line to close out the game. Pulling back a little, the Tigers finished on a 17-2 run. Over the final ten minutes of the Zags' biggest game of the season, their high powered offense was nowhere to be found.
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