Gonzaga coach Mark Few was more than familiar with OSU’s Marcus Smart, having coached him with Team USA and also facing him and the Cowboys in Stillwater a year ago.
So Few knew that contending with Smart would be a major focus, prompting immediate preparation in advance of their NCAA Tournament meeting.
“I mean, it started Sunday afternoon, you know, right when the matchup flashed up on the screen,” Few said of Selection Sunday. “We played Marcus last year in Stillwater and I was fortunate enough to be able to coach him in the USA Basketball stuff for a summer. So we knew what he's all about. He's a heck of a competitor and a heck of a physical presence.”
Smart finished with a monster stat line: 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals.
But he also was held to a 5-of-14 shooting effort from the floor and committed six turnovers.
“I thought we did a pretty good job on him, you know?” Few said. “That's vintage Marcus, he's going to beat you any way he can, whether it's with rebounds — 13 boards … which is unbelievable.
“But it started with challenging our guys to step up and compete against him. It starts and ends with getting your competitive level up to that and we did.”
COWBOYS LAMENT MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
A lot went wrong for the Cowboys in their season-ending 85-77 loss to the Bulldogs.
Even some of the things that went right, turned wrong.
OSU, always a team built to take advantage of the rules changes aimed at freer offensive play, used its slashing skills to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line. Once there, however, the Cowboys made just 22 of 37 foul shots — 59.5 percent.
“We work on our free throws every day, every chance we can get,” said Le’Bryan Nash. “Every time we step on the court, we work on free throws. They weren’t falling. I don’t know what happened. I guess the basketball gods weren’t with us.
“If we were making free throws, it could have been a different game. But we didn’t.”
The Cowboys also forced 15 turnovers, but were able to turn them into only 10 points. They led the Big 12 in turnover margin and produced one of the top four turnover margin averages in school history, regularly cashing those opportunities into points.
“We did turn them over,” said OSU coach Travis Ford, “but unlike us we didn’t convert, for whatever reason. Normally we convert. And that’s the difference between any wins and losses.”
ZAGS’ DEFENSE MADE COWBOYS WORK
A strong defensive job by Gonzaga extended from the paint to the perimeter.
Consider two key stats: the Cowboys made but 3 of 15 shots from the arc — with most of their 3-pointers contested — and didn’t record a dunk, with 7-footer Przemek Karnowski and forward Sam Dower discouraging everything in the lane.
Few on his team’s toughness:
“We knew it wasn't going to be pretty. We knew we were going to have to fight and we talked about being the toughest team on the floor and, you know, I think for stretches of it we were, because if you don't match OK State's toughness, you don't have a chance.”
FOULS EXTENDED GAME, OSU’S HOPE
Late in the game, the Cowboys opted to foul Karnowski in hack-a-Shaq style, trying to capitalize on his struggles at the foul line, which showed him as a 50.9 percent free-throw shooter entering the game.
And it nearly worked, as Karnowski missed six straight free throws during a stretch inside the 3:00 mark, except OSU converted points only once.
“It got a bit choppy, but it was smart on their part,” said Zags guard Kevin Pangos, “made it prolonged game.”
Said Few: “Travis did a good job of making the game longer there at the end where we had to earn it and work on our end-of-game situations.”