Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ZAGS: Gonzaga's men and women both win WCC tourney titles, await their March Madness destinations

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 9:40 AM

Nigel Williams-Goss and the Gonzaga Bulldogs won the WCC tournament and will head to the NCAA tourney once again, possibly as a No. 1 seed. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Nigel Williams-Goss and the Gonzaga Bulldogs won the WCC tournament and will head to the NCAA tourney once again, possibly as a No. 1 seed.

Tuesday night’s victory over Saint Mary’s assured the inevitable. Gonzaga is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th consecutive season.

All that’s left for the Zags to sweat about between now and Selection Sunday this weekend is their seeding. At 32-1 on the season, No. 4-ranked Gonzaga is completely deserving of a one seed in the NCAA tournament. Until the brackets are announced, though, there will be naysayers saying the Zags haven’t earned a top seed.

“I have nothing to say to them,” Coach Mark Few said. “I think our results speak for themselves.”

The most recent result, a 74-56 win over No. 19 Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Championship, speaks quite loudly on its own. Gonzaga held Saint Mary’s, one of the nation’s best shooting teams, to 36.8% from the field. The Gaels’ veteran, dual-point guard backcourt normally runs a tight ship. But Tuesday night the team committed 10 first half turnovers en route to a 21-point halftime deficit.

“We were so poor I can't even tell you,” Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said. “In the first half there wasn't a phase of the game we were good at.”

Gonzaga completely dominated a team that has spent every week this year, from the preseason to postseason, ranked in the AP Top 25. In one night the Zags debunked two of the most common criticisms leveled against them: that they don’t play anybody, and that they’re never tested.

“We talked at halftime about how Saint Mary’s is an excellent basketball team,” Few said.

Sure enough, the Gaels fought back. With just over 10 minutes left in the game they had clawed their way to within five points of the Zags. In front of Dick Vitale and a primetime ESPN television audience, the Zags found themselves in challenged in March.

Their response was quick and emphatic.

In just over one minute, three quick plays blew the game wide open. With 5:55 to play Przemek Karnowski (15 points, 10 rebounds) scored and was fouled. He missed his free throw, but Zach Collins was there to put back the miss. Nigel Williams-Goss, who was named tournament Most Outstanding Player after recording 22 points along with six assists, steals and rebounds, followed suit with a basket and foul shot of his own. On the next possession, Silas Melson (10 points) did the same.

Gonzaga’s lead went from single digits to 17 and the sold-out, overwhelmingly pro-Gonzaga room at Orleans Arena went from stressed to screaming. Saint Mary’s had no answer.

“It was a heck of a championship game,” Few said.

Gonzaga's women's team took the WCC tourney title on Tuesday, and they'll head to the NCAA tournament as a result. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Gonzaga's women's team took the WCC tourney title on Tuesday, and they'll head to the NCAA tournament as a result.

Gonzaga's women's team might not get the hype of the highly ranked men's squad, but they equaled the men in every way that counts, winning the WCC regular-season title and following it up with a WCC tournament championship.

In fact, the women arguably had a more significant win Tuesday with their 86-75 win over Saint Mary's since the Zags weren't assured a trip to the NCAA tournament without it. Jill Barta set a championship game record by dropping in 37 points, and as a result coach Lisa Fortier and the Zags get to watch Selection Monday next week and find out who they'll play in March Madness. (DAN NAILEN)
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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Zags face familiar foe for WCC tourney championship in St. Mary's; everything you need to know about tonight's matchup

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 9:36 AM

The Mark Few-led Zags are in the WCC tournament championship for the 20th straight season.
  • The Mark Few-led Zags are in the WCC tournament championship for the 20th straight season.

Gonzaga is in the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship Game once again. The Zags have played in this game for 20 consecutive seasons, a streak dating back to 1998.

Nigel Williams-Goss, who led the Zags in points (25), rebounds (8) and assists (5) Monday night against Santa Clara, was 3 years old. Zach Collins, who drained a three-pointer with 47 seconds left to ice the game, was not yet four months old. And current high school seniors heading to Gonzaga this fall weren’t even alive when this streak began.

“That streak is amazing,” head coach Mark Few said. “There are tons of people in Spokane who come down to this, and they literally circle the dates on the calendar back in July or whenever you guys announce it, and spend a good portion of their hard-earned money to come down here for a whole week. Our guys have done an amazing job of making their trips worthwhile.”

Those trips were made worthwhile two-fold Monday night. Gonzaga advanced to the tournament final, and Gonzaga played an entertaining game against four-seed Santa Clara.

Jared Brownridge poured in 32 points for the Broncos, who were just five points back of the Zags with under two minutes to play. But back-to-back threes from Williams-Goss and Collins, both of whom played high school basketball in Las Vegas, put the Broncos away.

For the eighth time in the past 14 seasons, No. 4 Gonzaga (31-1) and No. 19 Saint Mary’s (28-3) will meet in the WCC Tournament final.

These two teams, both ranked in the AP Top 25 for the entirety of the season, dominated the West Coast Conference in 2017, combining for three losses during league play. Saint Mary’s fell twice to Gonzaga, and Gonzaga fell once to BYU — the same BYU team that Saint Mary’s blew out 81-50 on Monday night to advance to the tournament final.

Saint Mary’s, which has won 28 games for the fifth time in head coach Randy Bennett’s 16 seasons, is a tough defensive team that is surgically precise on the offensive end. Point guard Emmett Naar has dished out 11 assists in each of the Gaels’ two games in Vegas. On Monday the entire BYU team totaled five assists.

Junior center Jock Landale led the Gaels with 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Cougars. Landale was limited with foul trouble in both previous meetings with Gonzaga this season, but when he stays on the court he’s hard to stop.

Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, featuring Karnowski vs. Landale, is the ideal WCC Tournament final. The league’s two best teams, two teams who are arch-rivals, in a nationally televised primetime showcase. It’s a classic March match-up.

“I've been here for 5 years,” Karnowski said, “and every year we come here with the same mindset. We know there’s no margin for error in March.”

Gonzaga faces off with Saint Mary’s at 6 p.m. Tuesday, on ESPN, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
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Monday, March 6, 2017

WCC Tourney update: Zags play Santa Clara Monday, here's all you need to know

Posted By on Mon, Mar 6, 2017 at 9:57 AM

Nigel Williams-Goss was one of the three Gonzaga transfers who came up big in their first WCC tournament game. The Zags take on Santa Clara Monday night in the semi-finals.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss was one of the three Gonzaga transfers who came up big in their first WCC tournament game. The Zags take on Santa Clara Monday night in the semi-finals.

It’s March, but there’s yet to be any madness at the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. Over the weekend the top four seeds advanced into the semifinal round.

Two-seed Saint Mary’s had little trouble and dispatched Portland 81-58. BYU, the three seed, found itself in a fight with the Lions of LMU, but escaped 89-81. Gonzaga’s opponent Monday night, four-seed Santa Clara, survived 76-69 against San Francisco. The top-seeded Zags struggled early against Pacific but ultimately won big, 82-50.

“It was a real March grinder there at the start,” Head Coach Mark Few said after the game.

The Zags, coming off their first loss of the season, did not inspire confidence early in their quarterfinal against the Tigers. Gonzaga made just nine shots in the first half, and only one three-pointer.

Gonzaga hasn’t lost a WCC Tournament opener since 1997. Saturday, three players making their tournament debuts pushed that streak to 20 years. The Zags’ lauded trio of transfers outscored the Tigers on their own, accounting for 53 total points.

Jordan Mathews led the way with a season high 22, 20 of which came in the second half.

Mathews’ dynamic scoring performance helped set up a meeting with another dynamic shooting guard: Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge (17.7 points per game).

“Brownridge, I don't know, seems like we've played him 30 times,” coach Few said.

This will actually be just the 10th, and the previous nine have all been Gonzaga victories, but Brownridge’s Broncos have put some good scares into the Zags. The senior guard has nearly upset Gonzaga on three occasions, coming up two points short each time.

These teams last met in Vegas back in 2014, when Brownridge was just a freshman. The final two of his 24 points in that game came on an elbow jumper which tied the game with 9.1 seconds left. David Stockton answered with a layup, and the Zags survived 77-75.

Brownridge now gets one final shot at that upset, and he’ll need to come up big once again if he wants to pull it off.

Santa Clara’s second leading scorer, KJ Feagin (14.6 ppg), did not play in the quarterfinal round due to a concussion. Head coach Herb Sendek was unsure whether he would have Feagin back against Gonzaga. Without Feagin, the Zags’ odds of advancing increase, but so too do the odds of Brownridge pouring in a ton of points.

Gonzaga takes on Santa Clara at 6 p.m. Monday on ESPN.
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Thursday, March 2, 2017

All you need to know about Zags' West Coast Conference tourney chances

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski has good reason to smile. The Zags at the No. 1 seed of the West Coast Conference tournament starting Friday in Las Vegas.
  • Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski has good reason to smile. The Zags at the No. 1 seed of the West Coast Conference tournament starting Friday in Las Vegas.

Gonzaga’s loss to BYU in the regular season finale is overshadowing a whole season’s worth of work. And that work adds up to the Zags not needing much luck over the next few days in Vegas.

The West Coast Conference Tournament tips off Friday at Orleans Arena. Gonzaga, by virtue of a first place finish in the regular season, is the one seed. That puts the Zags on the easy half of the 10-team bracket and keeps a clash with arch rival Saint Mary’s, or more recent nemesis BYU, on hold until Tuesday’s championship game.

First, though, Gonzaga will have to take down either nine-seed Pacific or eight-seed Pepperdine. That first Zags game, televised on ESPN2, is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m.

In four meetings with those teams this season the Zags won by an average of 29.5 points, and no game was closer than 20. A win Gonzaga will advance them to face either four-seed Santa Clara or five-seed San Francisco on Monday evening.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Did the Spokesman-Review just jinx the undefeated Zags?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2017 at 9:58 AM

Want to see into the future? Subscribers to the Spokesman-Review are able to do just that today — reading about Gonzaga's perfect regular season record (30-0!) a day before the Zags play their final game on Saturday against BYU. (Thursday night, the Gonzaga crushed San Diego to take their record to 29-0 on the season.)

You can find the digital version of the four-page section, with tomorrow's date, on the SR's website this morning — with the paper declaring, "After completing a perfect regular season, Gonzaga sets its sights on making an unprecedented postseason run."

Obviously, it's a safe bet that the No.1 team in America will beat BYU on their home court — catch the action on ESPN at 7:15 Saturday — but then again ... talk to old President Dewey about hubris in newspapers.

UPDATED 11:40 AM TODAY: Fearing the wrath of the basketball gods — and Zag fans everywhere — the Spokesman-Review has now taken down the special, end-of-the-season section.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Still undefeated, Zags nab 5th consecutive title as WCC season champs

Of the team's 20 WCC titles, 16 have come during Mark Few’s 18 years as head coach.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 9:52 AM

Redshirt senior center Przemek Karnowski (No. 24) has been a constant for the team these past five years. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Redshirt senior center Przemek Karnowski (No. 24) has been a constant for the team these past five years.

Saturday’s matinee was as much another blowout win as it was a display of just how good the Gonzaga men’s basketball program has been over the years.

The Zags (28-0, 16-0 WCC) won their first regular season West Coast Conference championship during the 1994 season. Their 82-61 victory over the Pacific Tigers (10-19, 4-12) clinched at least a share of the program’s 20th regular season title.

“It’s one of those things that I take a lot of pride in,” Few said.

Of those 20 titles, 16 have come during Mark Few’s 18 years as head coach. And this year’s marks five straight titles for the Zags. Few isn’t the only thing that ties these five titles together, though. There’s been another constant on the team during that span: redshirt senior center Przemek Karnowski.

“I’m just happy that for five years that I’ve been here we’ve won it every season,” Karnowski said. “It feels good.”

To win five regular season titles in as many years requires, obviously, winning a lot of games. And that’s exactly what Karnowski has done. The big man from Poland picked up career victory number 128 against Pacific. He’s now five games shy of the NCAA career record for victories, currently held by former Duke Blue Devil Shane Battier.

Karnowski’s long and storied career began in the 2013 season. As a freshman, on the first Gonzaga team to be ranked No. 1, he came off the bench behind Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower.

Olynyk, now in his fourth season with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and Dower were in attendance at the Kennel to catch this edition of the No. 1 ranked Zags. Having a couple of former Bulldogs in the house was yet another highlight in an exciting season here in Spokane.

“We’re enjoying the heck out of every day on this ride,” Few said. “Obviously we want to take it as far as possible. But we’re also going to enjoy every day and every moment and every win.”

The Zags, and their fans, have two more chances to enjoy wins before heading to Las Vegas for the WCC Tournament. Next Thursday they head to San Diego to take on the Toreros before returning home for the season finale against BYU Saturday.
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Zags stay undefeated, take down San Francisco 96-61

Karnowski and Williams-Goss once again lead the way after a tough first half

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 9:39 AM

Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski continued his late-season run of huge performances.
  • Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski continued his late-season run of huge performances.

Gonzaga’s 96-61 victory wasn’t as easy as it looked. After all, final scores never really tell the whole story.

Entering Thursday’s clash with the San Francisco Dons (18-10, 8-7 WCC) the Zags (27-0, 15-0 WCC) were winning games by an average of 23.4 points. They won their 27th by 35 to remain undefeated on the season. But don’t say they never get tested in West Coast Conference play.

“They [the Dons] can really cut you up if you’re not ready to go,” Zags coach Mark Few said after the game.

And that they did as Gonzaga trailed for most of the first half. With 9:30 to play in the first San Francisco held a multi-possession lead. On one end the Dons were dropping in threes, which teams don’t normally do against this year’s Zags. On the other, a zone defense frustrated the Zags, who were forced to swing the ball from side to side without much success.

But when the ball did get inside, big Przemek Karnowski (23 points) was ready to work. And so was the guy tasked with getting him the ball, Nigel Williams-Goss (30 points, seven assists).

“Nigel’s had a good run against them [the Dons],” Few said, “and big Shem has been delivering exceptionally well this past month.”

Last month in Gonzaga’s 95-80 victory over the Dons in San Francisco, Williams-Goss set a career high with 36 points. Thursday in Spokane he was needed once again.

Williams-Goss (15.6 ppg) and Karnowski (12.8 ppg) have been the faces of the team this season, as well as its two leading scorers, and Thursday’s performance was an affirmation of their role. But going forward for this usually balanced offense — this was only the second game all season in which two Zags scored over 20 points — they may have to step up more often.

“We have a bunch of guys capable of scoring 20,” Few said. “The beauty of it is that we have so many that we don’t always need them to.”

Unfortunately, that bunch has shrunk. A broken finger kept Killian Tillie out of the game, and Bryan Alberts was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Few stressed how players would need to step up to fill those absences. Going off of Thursday’s example, it looks as if his upperclassmen leaders are up to task.

It was a sluggish start against a streaky opponent, coupled with a shortened bench, that tested Gonzaga Thursday. Saturday afternoon the test will come from the Pacific Tigers.
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Monday, February 13, 2017

Weekend hoops: Gonzaga's open road, Cougars rough weekend in the mountains

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Przemek Karnowski had a dominant game against St. Mary's on Saturday. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Przemek Karnowski had a dominant game against St. Mary's on Saturday.

As we hit mid-February, it's time to turn our full attention to March Madness (with all due respect to my fellow baseball fans geeking out over the start of spring training with pitchers and catchers reporting this week).

Here in the Inland Northwest, that means tracking Gonzaga, obviously, who received one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA's first-ever preliminary seeding announcement over the weekend, but also Eastern Washington, Idaho and Washington State, who all need to make a run through their conference tournaments to get into the Big Dance.

Let's break it down:


On Saturday, the NCAA revealed its first list of the tourney's top 16 seeds, a blatant attempt to build up the hype to Selection Sunday. Obviously those seeds will move around a lot between now and the end of the conference tournaments in early March, but the big news was that Gonzaga got a preliminary No. 1 seed — but was only the No. 4 overall seed, behind Villanova, Kansas and Baylor.

That, of course, got some Zags fans up in arms about being "disrespected" by the selection committee. Whatever — does anyone ever remember who the No. 1 overall seed is after March Madness gets going? Nope. Getting a No. 1 seed and winning the West Coast Conference remain the Zags primary goals, and they got a step closer to that Saturday when they went to St. Mary's and beat the Gaels for the second time this year. The Zags are now two games up on St. Mary's with four games to go, including games this week against San Francisco and Pacific in The Kennel.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Weekend hoops: No. 1 Zags keep rolling; EWU, Idaho hanging tough in Big Sky

Posted By and on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 10:40 AM

Silas Melson (center) stepped up with Nigel Williams-Goss injured and unable to play Saturday. - AUSTIN ILG
  • Austin Ilg
  • Silas Melson (center) stepped up with Nigel Williams-Goss injured and unable to play Saturday.

It wasn’t a good weekend for teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll.

When No. 1 Gonzaga’s starting lineup was announced Saturday evening, and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss wasn’t in it, there was reason to fear that Gonzaga would be the seventh team ranked in the top 10 to lose on that day. But instead the Zags (24-0, 12-0 WCC) showed why they’re the top-ranked team in the nation with a 90-55 dismantling of Santa Clara.

Just two days after the team needed a superhuman performance from Williams-Goss to survive against BYU — the junior scored 24 points in the second half, on a sprained ankle which kept him on the sidelines Saturday — Mark Few’s squad would have to go without their star.

“It was great,” Few said. “It created an opportunity for the next man up.”

That next man up was Silas Melson, who got his fourth start of the season. Melson scored only four points, but he accounted for just one missed shot and made no turnovers. Most importantly though, he played lockdown defense on one of the best scorers in college basketball: Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge.

“I don’t know how many times we’ve played him [Brownridge] now, 10 or 11,” Few said. “That might’ve be the best job we’ve done on him.”

Brownridge, who averages over 18 points per game, managed just 13 on Saturday.

Scoring 90 points might lead people to overlook the defensive effort Gonzaga put forth against the Broncos. But that defense is the very reason this team made it through a tough week unscathed, unlike virtually every other team near the top.

On Thursday against BYU the story was Williams-Goss. It was that Gonzaga has a point guard who deserves to be in the conversation not just for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the best point guard in the country, but for national player of the year award as well.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

It's official, the Zags rule all the college-hoops land (for now)

Thursday's game at BYU airs on ESPN2 at 8 pm

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 9:53 AM

Johnathan Williams is one of the top-tier transfers who helped Gonzaga get back to No. 1 in the polls.
  • Johnathan Williams is one of the top-tier transfers who helped Gonzaga get back to No. 1 in the polls.

This won't come as a shock to anyone who pays attention to such things, but Gonzaga's men's basketball team officially scaled to the top of the Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll when the results of the latest round of voting were revealed this morning. It's only the second time they've reached No. 1 in school history.

It's no surprise because a week ago the Zags were at No. 3, ranked behind Villanova and Kansas, two formidable presences. But both those team took losses last week, while Gonzaga continued steamrolling through its West Coast Conference schedule. On Saturday, they went on the road and delivered a 96-49 beatdown of Pepperdine that's become almost normal in its efficient ruthlessness this season.

What makes Gonzaga different than the typical No. 1 team in the weekly poll? Well, they rarely get to the top spot during the regular season, even though teams regularly move around within the upper tier of the rankings. Call it an East Coast bias, or simply disrespect to the quality of Gonzaga's conference opponents, but voters typically don't give the Spokane squad much love.

Also making Gonzaga different? This year, they just might not give up the No. 1 before March Madness rolls around. They still have road games against BYU and St. Mary's (currently ranked No. 18), their two toughest foes in the WCC, but this ain't your normal Zags team. They're not even that similar to the team that reached No. 1 four years ago, in that the combination of excellent transfers (Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Matthews, Johnathan Williams) and homegrown talent (Przemek Karnowski, freshman Zach Collins) has blended quickly into a defensive force, as well as the offensively explosive team Zags fans have come to expect through the years.

Gonzaga always has a target on its back in the WCC as the team to beat, and being ranked No. 1 in the nation won't change that. Next up? What is suddenly the biggest game of the year when the Bulldogs visit Provo for a showdown with BYU at the school's 19,000-capacity Marriott Center. The game is Thursday at 8 pm and will be shown on ESPN2.
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