Saturday, March 28, 2015

Gonzaga's women take their turn in the Sweet 16 spotlight Saturday

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2015 at 7:21 AM

Five-on-five, the sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols are better than the unranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. That’s why the GU women are counting on about 9,000 of their friends to help them out Saturday afternoon when Tennessee and the Zags tangle at the Spokane Arena in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.

“We’re so fortunate to have the support here,” Gonzaga forward Sunny Greinacher said at a Friday afternoon press conference in the arena.

“Our fans are amazing to us,” guard Keani Albanez added, “and to be able to play in front of those fans again, that just means to world to me.”

The Bulldogs, who had to hold their breath to find out if they would even be picked to play in the NCAA tournament, went 2-0 on the opening weekend of play to earn the right to play at least one more game in Spokane.

The Bulldogs are 26-7 and seeded 11th in the 16-team Spokane Region. Gonzaga has knocked off No. 6 seed George Washington (of Washington, D.C.) and No. 3 seed Oregon State in Corvallis. Now they face No. 2 seed Tennessee (29-5), the eight-time NCAA champion, on ESPN at 4 p.m.

ESPN also carries the 1:30 p.m. contest between fourth-ranked Maryland (32-2), the No. 1 seed, and 16th-ranked Duke (23-10), the No. 4 seed. Ticket sales for the Spokane games — including Monday’s Elite Eight contest, a Final Four qualifier — skyrocketed after Gonzaga pulled off two upsets in Corvallis.

The Bulldogs rank among the national leaders in women’s basketball attendance with a 5,366 average at the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center on GU's campus. Of course, Tennessee averages almost twice as many home fans (10,413), and the Lady Vols recently played in front of 14,390 mostly enemy fans at South Carolina.

“We haven’t even discussed the crowd, to be honest with you,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “Our schedule is pretty tough, and we have been in some pretty tough environments.”

Both teams have balanced scoring, but no overwhelming individuals. The Lady Vols lost leading scorer and rebounder Isabelle Harrison with a blown knee last month.
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Friday, March 27, 2015

Sweet 16: Gonzaga vs. UCLA, round two

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 10:07 AM

  • Rajah Bose photo

Because college basketball seasons are long enough to span two calendar years, let us remind you that Gonzaga has already played UCLA this season. And they already beat them, too.

Yeah, it seems forever ago when a Gonzaga team, one week after a soul-crushing, almost-had-it loss to Arizona, strutted onto the floor of Pauley Pavillion, one of the most hallowed halls in all of college hoops, and soundly crushed UCLA. A quick refresher: the Zags were led by 24 points from Kyle Wiltjer and another 20 from Byron Wesley to win 87-74. Gonzaga shot an incredible 58 percent from the field and hit 9 of 19 from three to come out of Los Angeles with the convincing win.

So, after that, UCLA played pretty sloppy, going on to lose five in a row, including a game against Kentucky where they embarrassed everybody to ever wear the baby blue by scoring just seven points in the first half. Seriously. But the Bruins came back, making a respectable run through the Pac-12 schedule and finishing strong enough to get a questionable bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Questionable or not, they made it into the field and proved doubters, like myself, incorrect by making the Sweet 16 with wins against SMU and UAB.

Here are some things to keep in mind going into today's game (4:15 tip off, CBS).

Gonzaga is known for its big men, namely Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis, both of whom can play with just about anybody in the country. But they will get a test from probably one-and-done freshman center Kevon Looney, a man who appears to have been born to rebound the basketball. After Looney, though, the Bruins will struggle to match up against the Zags' bigs. But after a farm boy strapped on a jersey and muscled in 22 points for North Dakota State against Gonzaga in the first round, so who knows.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EWU's Tyler Harvey considering the NBA draft

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 4:15 PM


Tyler Harvey, who has progressed from walk-on to national scoring leader at Eastern Washington, will explore his NBA options before deciding whether to return for his senior season with the Eagles.

Eastern coach Jim Hayford told the Inlander on Wednesday afternoon that Harvey will seek an evaluation of his draft status from the NBA next month before making a decision.

“His plans at this time are to return to Eastern,” Hayford said.

Harvey’s decision could be complicated if Hayford does not return. Hayford may draw interest from other schools after guiding the Eagles to a 26-9 season, regular-season (shared) and tournament titles in the Big Sky Conference and the second NCAA tournament appearance in school history.

Asked if he’s been pursued by any schools, Hayford would only say, “I love the job I have right now. That’s all I’m talking about.”

Chad Ford, the NBA draft expert of ESPN, lists Harvey as the 41st-best prospect for this year’s draft. The draft involves 30 players in each of the two rounds. Only first-round picks are automatically guaranteed money, but second-round picks can negotiate for guaranteed money.

“My advice to Tyler is if there’s guaranteed money going into the NBA draft, I think he should do that,” Hayford said. “If not, let’s go have a great senior year and improve your position in the draft for the following year. I have nothing but Tyler’s best interest in mind.”

After Harvey scored 27 points in a loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament last week, Ford wrote that NBA teams “will give him a long look in the first round. Harvey graduates this spring, so he could make the leap to the NBA if he wants to. Given how hot his draft stock is right now, it probably would be a very good idea.”

Graduating early also would permit Harvey to transfer to another Division I school without sitting out a year, which the NCAA requires of most transfers between Division I schools. Harvey, an Academic All-American, told the Inlander last week that he is not interested in transferring.

Hayford was the only coach who recruited Harvey out of high school. The two were headed to NCAA Division III Whitworth in Spokane before Hayford left the Pirates to take the Eastern job four years ago. Hayford agreed to give Harvey a scholarship at Eastern after he paid his own way the first year while redshirting to add strength and weight to his once-skinny body.

Harvey is now listed at 6 feet, 4 inches and 185 pounds. The Torrance, Calif., native leads NCAA Division I with 23.1 points and 4.0 3-point field goals per game and ranks 14th in 3-point shooting percentage at 43.1.

The only NBA player produced by Eastern was guard Rodney Stuckey, who starred at Kentwood High School in Kent. Stuckey averaged 24.6 points as a redshirt sophomore at Eastern in 2006-07, then was drafted 15th overall by Detroit. Now with Indiana, Stuckey has averaged 13.4 points in eight NBA seasons.
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Monday, March 23, 2015

Explore Gonzaga hoops history while you wait for the Sweet 16

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 3:28 PM

If you're a Zags fan and can't believe you have to wait until Friday to see the men's hoops Sweet 16 matchup, and Saturday for the women's game at Spokane Arena, you might want to make your way to the Gonzaga University campus, where the Foley Center is hosting a display of Gonzaga hoops history sure to satisfy your sports cravings until the weekend. 

"Slam-Dunk: GU Basketball Highlights" celebrates the long, winning histories of both the men's and women's teams through more than 30 items culled from the library's University Archives and Special Collections. 

Among the objects are a 1912 game ticket, a page from men's coach Claude McGrath's notebook from the 1930s, and a slew of photos covering the last century-plus of basketball on Gonzaga's campus, from players to team photos to shots of the first gym on campus. 

The Slam Dunk exhibit will remain on display through the NCAA basketball tournaments, free and open to the public Mondays-Thursdays from 8 am to 2 am, Fridays from 8 am to 9 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm, and Sundays 10 am to 2 am. 
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Gonzaga dominates Iowa, gets the Sweet 16 monkey off its back

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 12:41 AM


The volume inside of Key Arena just a few minutes into Gonzaga's round-of-32 game against Iowa was the sort of thing that gives you goosebumps, even if you're sitting in the press area trying to be as objective as possible.

Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos were taking turns hitting big threes and the largely Zag crowd in Seattle was working out six years of frustrating second-round exits from the NCAA tournament. There was plenty of reason to make a ruckus in the Emerald City this weekend.

Things stayed mostly loud throughout the game, which ended in an 87-68 blowout of a team that a lot of prognosticators (yours truly included) thought would give Gonzaga a serious run for their money. Instead, the Zags pulled out their best offensive game of the season, posting the sort of offensive stats that I hesitate to even post here because there might be kids reading this and the figures border on basketball pornography. But just a taste: 61.5 percent from the field, 10 of 16 from three-point range. That is insane.

Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Kevin Pangos took to the press conference podium with coach Mark Few after the game, all with the stoic eyes of men accustomed to these sort of wins. But Wiltjer's tweet from the locker room a few minutes prior suggested they might, just might, have been masking a little excitement.
Yes, that is Mark Few doing a handstand or something very close to a handstand.

The Zags head onto Houston for a matchup against UCLA on Friday (4:15 pm on CBS), who they already dismantled back in December. Wiltjer said there's a treat waiting for the team down in Texas.

"Tonight we were extra motivated because we were going to dinner last night and we passed one of my favorite restaurants, Benihana...So I was like, 'Coach, we should to go to Benihana.' And one of our assistants said, 'Hey, if you get the win tonight, we'll go to Benihana in Houston.' So I was extra motivated because now we get to go to Benihana. So I'm hyped," said Wiltjer.

It's surprisingly what a little corporate Japanese cuisine will do to get young men motivated.
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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Zags play for the Sweet 16

Posted By on Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 11:18 AM


Whether warranted or not, the success of Gonzaga's season will be measured against what happens this afternoon in Seattle.

That seems like hyperbole, but it's how a whole hell of a lot of Gonzaga fans feel after they've seen their squads fall in the round of 32 year after year, even when they had the No. 1 seed a couple years ago. So when they take the floor at 4:10 pm at Key Arena against Iowa, a team that played one of the best games of the tournament thus far with an 83-52 thumping of Davidson on Friday night, there will be a lot at stake.

No NCAA tournament game is a cake walk, but the Zags have drawn a tough one with the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes, who surprisingly have brought a sizable contingent of fans to Seattle. The challenge for the Zags will be that Iowa is one of the only teams in the field that can measure up to their size. They go 7-foot-1, 6-11, 6-8 in the front court, which pretty comparable to what Gonzaga puts out there, but is nevertheless size they haven't seen all season.

But at a press conference yesterday afternoon, Kyle Wiltjer didn't seem too concerned with Iowa's size.

"We're going to still continue to play our game. Me and [Przemek Karnowski] play really well together and we really just try to just play a good high-low basketball and post up strong, no matter how big they are. So, I think we fare up well with them," he said.

It should be an entertaining battle down low, but the Zags will also have to shut down Aaron White, who went for 26 points in that demolishing of Iowa.
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Gonzaga beats North Dakota State and that's all that matters

Posted By on Sat, Mar 21, 2015 at 12:00 AM


Your neighbor, cousin, grocery store check-out lady or whoever you happen to most discuss Gonzaga basketball with is going to tell you that Gonzaga shouldn't have played such a close game on Friday night.

This is probably true, but in the NCAA tournament, a win is a win. "Survive and advance" — ever heard of that? The Zags were happy to walk out of Key Arena with a ticket to play Iowa on Sunday afternoon (4:10 pm tipoff, TBS). The 86-76 final score as skewed slightly by some end-of-game threes, but that's just about how close the contest was throughout. North Dakota State is a scrappy, albeit undersized, crew who gave Gonzaga players and fans more heartburn than they expected from this 15-vs-2 matchup.

Should it make you nervous that the Zags let an ostensibly lowly opponent shoot better than 53 percent from the field, including 10 of 21 from three point territory? Yes, probably.

But don't expect coach Mark Few to apologize for not serving up the 30-point victory some folks think was required. 

"Especially sitting there watching all those games transpire over the weekend and just how tough it was for everybody out there. We knew this was going to be tough. But, again, these guys stepped up and made enough big plays down the stretch, especially on the offensive end to hold off a really, really courageous and bighearted opponent," said Few after the game. 

The nightcap of an entertaining slate of games in Seattle started precariously for the Zags when NDSU went three-for-three from downtown right after the tip off and at one point had a 5-point lead that had the mighty Gonzaga contingent in Key Arena wringing its collective hands.

The Zags would roll out a 12-0 run punctuated by a breakaway jam by Seattle's own (well, Kent actually, but whatever) Gary Bell Jr who finished with 13 points.

The pride of Spokane headed into the locker room at halftime with a comfortable 43-30 lead...but Zag Nation didn't get to kick back, which is what you want to do in a 15-2 matchup.

The Bison (with a hard Z), were led by a 6-foot-6 guy who looked like he just stepped out of a transmission repair shop and onto the court. I guessed his name to be Buzz Porkchop and I was close...he goes by Dexter Werner and he made an array of ridiculous shots against guys half a foot taller than him. It made little sense, but that's kind of the way the NCAA tournament works.

What was the difference? Kevin Pangos. The senior Canadian came alive, hitting 18 points on four 3-pointers, including a four-point play that put a soldering iron through the hopes of the NDSU Bizzzzzzzon.
On Sunday, the Zags go up against a very, very tough looking Iowa team that dispatched A-10 champion Davidson, with the hopes of making their first Sweet 16 since 2009. 

"I don't know about getting over the hump. We have done it many times in this program, so for us, we need to play better... obviously we need to play better on the defensive end Sunday because of all the teams this weekend, I thought Iowa probably had the most impressive performance, at least that I saw. So, they're clicking on all cylinders and we got 36 hours to get back and get our feet under us and get rested and hopefully come out and play a great game," said Few.
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Friday, March 20, 2015

Zags are in Seattle to take on North Dakota State

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 3:10 PM


Well, I'm here in Seattle, having crossed the state this morning along with a sizable contingent of other Spokanites heading this way to lead their beloved Zags to victory tonight.

The first session of games featured a surprisingly convincing victory in the form of Northern Iowa's 71-54 slugging of Wyoming. Right now, Louisville is getting everything UC Irvine has in them, including the wrath of 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye the nation's tallest basketball player. And the folks inside Key Arena are pulling for the 13-over-4 upset.

Around 4:30, Iowa faces off against Davidson in a game whose winner will go on to play the winner of Gonzaga's 6:50 pm (estimated, probably going to be later than that) date with North Dakota State.

In a tournament that's already seen some insane upsets, you can bet Gonzaga is not looking past this NDSU team. Thankfully, Few's Crew (no one calls them that, I know) is healthy after a strong WCC tournament showing and will use its size to give the much smaller Bison fits beneath the basket. It kinda feels like a Przemek Karnowski sort of day here in dreary-and-wet-as-all-hell Seattle.

Keep an eye on NDSU guard Lawrence Alexander. The senior is one of the only starters back from last year's team that stunned Oklahoma in Spokane. He's a deadly three-point shooter, the sort of guy the Zags have had trouble with in tournament's past. But we won't think too much on that, right?
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EWU is no Cinderella in 2015, losing to Georgetown in tourney opener

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 10:31 AM

Golfers, we are told, drive for show and putt for dough. Basketball players, we were reminded Thursday night, shoot for show and defend for dough if they want to win championships. Eastern Washington’s splendid season came to a sudden end when the Eagles’ third-ranked offense could not overcome their 324th-ranked defense in an 84-74 loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament.
Tyler Harvey was the game's top scorer. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU Athletics
  • Tyler Harvey was the game's top scorer.

“We needed a really good shooting night to beat them,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said.

Translation: The Eagles knew Georgetown was going to put up plenty of points, even though the 22nd-ranked Hoyas are usually quite average on offense. The most surprising aspect of Georgetown’s big night on offense is that so much of the damage came on 3-pointers. Come to think of it, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since the Eagles came into the day ranked 334th out of 345 Division I teams in 3-point shooting defense at 38.5 percent. The Hoyas had been nailing just 34.7 percent of their 3’s this season, but they hit 47.8 percent (11 of 23) at the Moda Center, and they made it look easy. Of course, it usually WAS easy.

“We were trying to focus on inside-out defense against them; they can pound it inside,” Eastern star Tyler Harvey said. “We were there, forced the kick outs (to the perimeter). They were knocking it down. Tall guys shooting it over us. Credit to them.”

More impressively, the Hoyas limited Eastern – one of the busiest and best 3-point shooting teams in the nation – to 9-for-28 shooting (32.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

“That probably needs to be a credit to them for their defense,” Hayford said. “Those are some long guys that you’re shooting over, and they play very smart. I give them full credit. We didn’t lose tonight; they beat us.”

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Inside the Eastern Washington vs. Georgetown matchup

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Eastern Washington forward Venky Jois. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU athletics
  • Eastern Washington forward Venky Jois.

The glistening Moda Center, home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, provides a big-time setting for a big-time game that just might vault the Eastern Washington basketball program into the national spotlight for years to come.

The Eagles take on 22nd-ranked Georgetown in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday (approximately 7 pm, truTV, ESPN 700 Radio). A crowd of 17,000 or more, the largest ever to watch an Eagles basketball game, is expected to be on hand.

Eastern Washington (26-8), champion of the lightly regarded Big Sky Conference, is seeded 13th in the 16-team South Region. Georgetown (21-10), runner-up to second-ranked Villanova in the powerful Big East Conference, is seeded fourth. The Hoyas are a 7.5-point favorite in Las Vegas.

The Eagles rank among the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the country, but defense can be something of an afterthought. The Hoyas are a bigger, more physical team that stresses defense.

Eastern and Georgetown players and coaches maintained a tournament tradition at Wednesday’s press conferences by making their opponent sound slightly less formidable than plutonium. Only a desert windstorm generates more hot air than an NCAA tournament press conference.

Online media created a buzz earlier in the day by running a headline that said Eastern coach Jim Hayford “guarantees” a victory over Georgetown. It turns out that Hayford was on the team bus when he predicted, “We’re gonna win,” during a national radio show.
“I knew the 15 guys (players) on the bus were listening to that,” Hayford said. “I want my team confident.”

3 – National rank in points per game (80.8) among 345 Division I teams. Georgetown ranks 87th at 70.7.
19 – National rank in field-goal shooting percentage (48.0). Georgetown is 80th at 45.5.
22 – Years in the past 30 when at least one No. 13 seed defeated a No. 4 seed.
5 – Consecutive NCAA tournaments in which Georgetown has lost to a double-digit seed.
22.9 – Points per game for Division I scoring leader Tyler Harvey.
3.9 – Harvey’s 3-point field goals per game, which also leads Division I.
60.8 – Field-goal shooting percentage for Venky Jois, who ranks seventh in Division I.
154 – Difference in 3-point field goals by Eastern (335) and Georgetown (181).
4.9 – Blocked shots per game for Eastern, the same as Georgetown.
1 – Eastern and Georgetown victories this season against Indiana, their only common opponent.

324 – National rank in points allowed per game (73.6). Georgetown is 131st at 64.6.
269 – National rank in field-goal shooting percentage defense (44.9). Georgetown is 63rd at 40.3.
236 – National rank in strength of schedule, according to ESPN. Georgetown is 12th.
74 – National rank in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Georgetown is 25th.
21 – Losses in 22 games against Top 25 teams. Eastern is 0-18 against Top 25 opponents (0-2 this season) since beating No. 10 Saint Joseph’s in 2001.
20 – Losses in 21 games played in front of crowds of 10,000 or more. The lone victory came this season at Indiana.
120 – Weight deficit the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Jois faces when guarding 6-10, 350-pound Georgetown center Joshua Smith. The latter starred at Kentwood High School in the Seattle suburb of Kent.
46 – NCAA tournament wins deficit Eastern faces when playing Georgetown. The Hoyas are 46-21 in 29 appearances. Eastern is 0-1, losing in 2004 to Oklahoma State.
9 – Years since a Big Sky team won a game in the tournament.
1 – National championships won by Georgetown. Patrick Ewing led the Hoyas to the title in 1984.

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