Gonzaga is one of the top offensive teams in the nation, but how well it plays defense could determine the level of success Mark Few's team achieves this season.
The No. 19 Bulldogs look for a second straight strong defensive effort while trying to continue their home success against unranked opponents Saturday night versus New Mexico State.After Gonzaga (7-1) allowed at least 81 points in each game while going 2-1 during the Maui Invitational, Few expects some defensive improvement while back on the mainland. Though in the midst of a favorable matchup, the Bulldogs didn't let their coach down by holding Coppin State to 32.1 percent shooting during an 86-51 home rout Sunday."Coach was harping on 'Maui jet lag' or whatever," said guard Gary Bell Jr., who hit four 3-pointers en route to a team-high 15 points. "We knew from our performances over there that we had to get after it better on defense, and that's all about playing hard."While Dayton, Chaminade and Arkansas got their points against the Bulldogs in Maui, none of those teams shot better than 45.8 percent. Gonzaga has held opponents to 41.7 percent shooting this season, and to an average of 59.7 points on 38.0 percent during a 31-game home win streak against unranked teams.The Bulldogs dominated from the beginning against Coppin State, jumping out to a 27-7 lead and owning a 25-point halftime advantage. Twice Gonzaga forced Coppin State into shot clock violations, and the Eagles barely beat the buzzer on several other occasions."Pretty much the whole emphasis was bringing our own energy and playing great defense, because our points-per-possession on defense in Maui wasn't nearly what we needed it to be," said reserve guard Kyle Dranginis, who had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists as the Bulldogs made half of their 62 shot attempts.Gonzaga has had little trouble offensively while ranking among the national leaders with an average of 91.8 points on 55.8 percent shooting, including 48.1 percent from beyond the arc.Bell (15.0 points per game) went 5 of 13 from the field against Coppin State but is shooting 56.8 percent for the season. Leading scorer Kevin Pangos (20.4) had a season-low nine points with six assists and a season-high four rebounds.Gonzaga would appear to have a good chance to continue its offensive success in its first meeting with New Mexico State (7-3), which gives up 69.7 points per game and allowed New Mexico to go 6 of 12 from 3-point range in a 79-70 loss Wednesday.Though the Aggies average 78.2 points and shoot 48.3 percent, they made 38.7 percent of their shots and went 4 of 19 from beyond the arc. New Mexico State ranks among the national leaders with 330 free-throw attempts and 230 makes, but its 69.7 percentage from the line does not rate among the top 150 teams in the country.Guard Daniel Mullings is averaging a team-leading 17.7 points and 20.7 while the Aggies have gone 2-1 in true road games.New Mexico State has dropped 12 straight against Top 25 opponents since an 80-73 win over No. 15 Nevada on Jan. 20, 2007.