The Gonzaga Bulldogs have had to scratch their way to a 21-4 record this season, bouncing in and out of the top 25. They have had to rely on heavily on playmakers like guard Kevin Pangos to lead the way as the Zags appear poised to once again win the WCC title on their way to the NCAA Tournament. But all isn’t right with Pangos, who has been battling through injuries for much of this season to lead the Zags in scoring, as his body appears to be wearing out. If Gonzaga hopes to make a run this March, they need to start getting Pangos some rest so he can be healthy come tournament time.
Pangos has been slowed by turf toe since early December and has had to battle through a number of setbacks as he’s played through the pain, the latest coming in practice prior to the team’s February 1 showdown with the San Francisco Dons. The guard says the toe is back to being around 90 percent healed at this point, which is good, but now is dealing with a nagging ankle injury. He initially sprained his left ankle against the West Virginia Mountaineers on December 10 before re-rolling it by stepping on Przemek Karnowski in the waning moments of the game against USF. Then, just this week, he came down on a teammate’s foot in practice and injured it yet again and Pangos has admitted that ankle is only around 70-75 percent.
And these injuries are starting to show in his performance on the court. After scoring more than 20 points in four of the team’s seven games before December 1, Pangos has gone over 20 points just once since when he put in 24 points on the BYU Cougars on January 25. In his last seven games, Pangos has failed to get to double digit points four times and has made two shots or fewer from the field five times. In the last four games, Pangos is just 7-of-33 from the floor, including 4-of-19 from beyond the three-point line.
But despite the lingering injuries and the current slump, Pangos never seems to come off the floor. He has played over 30 minutes in every game since December 1, including 11 games of 35 minutes or more. He’s averaged 34.7 minutes per game this season while no other Zag averages more than 30 minutes a game. Nobody would deny that Pangos is a leader of this team and his contribution is critical to the success of the Zags this season. But there’s also a limit to how much he can shoulder with the number of injuries he can handle and it appears like he’s starting to crack with his recent shooting slump.
If Gonzaga is to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, they need Pangos as close to 100 percent as possible. If he continues to go out each and every game and play heavy minutes with the injuries he’s already sustained (and re-injured on multiple occasions), there won’t be much of him left when March rolls around. The Zags need to find time to get Pangos rest during games to allow him to heal and play the game he’s capable of playing it when the games start to mean more in the tournament. If they don’t, they might get an early exit from the Big Dance in 2014.