The lady of the house is a Gonzaga professor, whereas, as my alma mater's school song goes, "A Utah man am I." We've both come to appreciate the other's team over the course of the last couple years of watching games together, and while I've often pondered how the teams would match up, I'm not too excited that it has to happen in the tournament. Both teams lost to Duke last year on the Blue Devils' way to the National Championship. So at least we can now share a hatred of Duke, right?
Here's what all you Zag-loving hoops fans need to know about Utah, who beat Fresno State in the first round, going into Saturday night's game in Denver, happening at 5:40 pm Pacific time.
The basics: The Utes are led by Pac-12 Player of the Year, sophomore center Jakob Poeltl (pronounced like "turtle", despite any discernible "r" anywhere in the 7-foot Austrian's name). But while Poeltl rightfully gets the most attention, given his impending NBA career, Utah is a pretty deep team. Seniors Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Dakari Tucker are all capable of bombing threes, and big men Kyle Kuzma and Chris Reyes help Poeltl down low. Point guard Lorenzo Bonam is streaky as a shooter, but he's lightning fast and can create his own shot better than the rest of the team. That doesn't matter much, because Utah is really good at sharing the basketball. They're also among the Top 10 in the country in field goal percentage as a team.
Key matchups: This could be a great game when it comes to head-to-head showdowns all over the floor. The best is clearly Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis vs. Poeltl, a matchup of potential lottery picks who both have excellent offensive and defensive skills. Sabonis is the more muscular of the two, while Poeltl has the more-fluid offensive game. Sabonis is better shooting away from the basket, while Poeltl is the better passer. Let's just hope the referees don't saddle either big man with foul trouble so we get to see a great showdown.
OK. Deep breaths. This is only the second day of this glorious NCAA Tournament, but it's already becoming one of the most memorable in the annals of hoops history. And, wouldn't you know it, Spokane was a major part of it.
As I told you earlier today, Hawaii stunned California in the opener at the Spokane Arena — a 13 seed beating a 4 seed — and on most opening week Fridays, that would be a national headline. But just a half hour later, Michigan State fell to Middle Tennessee State (15 over 2). Then Stephen F. Austin manhandled West Virginia (14 over 3). And then things would continue to get crazy.
But at the Spokane Arena, Maryland was taking care of South Dakota State, leading by 18 points in the second half thanks to 27 points from senior forward Jake Layman. It seemed like a break from the madness. But then SDSU came crawling, and the sprinting, back into the game. The Jackrabbits got the game within two points with a minute left. Because of a weird series of fouls and missed free throws, SDSU actually had the ball with 12 seconds left down by just three.
But...they turned it over on the last possession – leading to a breakaway dunk by former Duke, current Maryland guard Rasheed Sulaimon to jack the Rabbits' chance at an upset. 79-74, Maryland.
Next up came Oregon and their day-glo fans, which you've probably seen all over town. On a day during which it felt like anything could happen, it never felt like Holy Cross could do much harm to Oregon. That’s not to discredit Holy Cross, a school that entered its conference tournament as the nine seed and proceeded to run the table. Then, they squeezed out a win over Southern in the first four just to get to Spokane.
The Ducks' Chris Boucher delivered three alley-oop dunks within the span of about four minutes and that kind of knocked the Crusaders out of things. Oregon is tough and big and fast. We learned that today. Oregon dismantled those kids from Holy Cross and it didn't look like the Ducks were ever really sweating it.91-52, Oregon.
The nightcap, though, was a different story. It was one of the most evenly matched games of the tournament thus far. In a word, it was a slugfest, man. It was Rocky II. I could lay out the back-and-forth nature of the contest, but you should just know that St. Joseph's and Cincinnati played a gem.
In the end, after much back-and-forth, it came down to this:
Here at the Spokane Arena, big basketball news was being made. The biggest news, arguably, of the entire tournament, you could say. Hawaii had just beaten Cal — and handily, at that — making for a 13-seed over a 4 upset, which hadn't happened since 2013. That news, however, was quickly overshadowed.
By the middle of the second half of Hawaii's 77-66 win, anyone not decked out in blue and gold Cal apparel was rooting, and rooting vigorously, for Hawaii, which makes sense, given that Spokane is basically the Hawaii of the lower 48. The place was rocking, led by a diehard group of actual Hawaiians who made the pan-Pacific flight to the mainland for the game. One guy told me he'd been in Anaheim for the Rainbow Warriors' win in the Big West tournament — flew back to the islands and then came to Spokane yesterday.
Even folks at the arena just to take in a game probably thought they'd just seen what would be the most talked-about game of the day. Well, that changed a half-hour later when Middle Tennessee State did the unthinkable and knocked off Michigan State — the team about 22 percent of the people who filled out an ESPN bracket picked to win it all. Many are calling this the biggest NCAA tournament upset EVER.
Spokane can nevertheless pride itself as Upset City. The last time men's games were held here, Harvard beat Cincinnati and North Dakota State knocked off Oklahoma. There could be more upsets to come, too.
Hawaii will play the winner of the Maryland vs. South Dakota State game. Following that contest, all those green and yellow folks who traveled up from Oregon will begin making their way into the arena.
The 11-seeded Gonzaga men's hoops team took down 6-seed Seton Hall Thursday night in Denver, advancing to the second round for a matchup against the No. 3 seed Utah. The Zags, while sloppy at times, dominated for most of the night, particularly in a stretch to close out the first half that saw Seton Hall miss 15 shots in a row, giving Gonzaga a halftime cushion they never gave up. As usual, Domantas Sabonis dominated inside, dropping 21 points and collecting 16 rebounds. This is the eight straight year Gonzaga has moved on to the second round of March Madness. Saturday's game will tip off at 5:40 pm Pacific, or a half-hour after the Iowa State/Arkansas-Little Rock game ends.
Inlander intern Meg Maclean joined her fellow Gonzaga students for a watch party for the men's game at the school's Hemmingson Center. Here's what she saw during Thursday night's ballgame:
Once it hit 8 pm on the third floor of Gonzaga's Hemmingson Center, you could feel the energy from two floors below. The viewing party for the Zags' NCAA tournament appearance was held in the Hemmingson Ballroom last night, and even though the Zags went head to head against Seton Hall 1,000 miles away in Denver, hundreds of Zag fans congregated on campus to support the men's team.
As the game raged on the big screens, screaming fans were offered pizza and beverages as they cheered their hearts out. The Zag spirit was encouraged between time-outs with loud music and dancing, directed by members of the Kennel Club and — of course — Spike the Bulldog.
The Spokane Arena is looking good for tomorrow's NCAA tourney games.
Merry St. Basketball Day, people of the Inland Northwest, and what a fine day it is. There are two huge Zags games coming this evening. There are NCAA title contenders in our fair city. And, also, people are wearing too much green and drinking much earlier in the day and with much more fervor than pretty much any other day on the calendar.
It's truly a joyous occasion.
There are already a number of NCAA tournament games in the books, and there are many more contests coming down the pike. You probably already know that because you've been streaming games to your computer, but watching with a very determined look on your face whenever the boss walks by.
The biggest upset we're obviously waiting for is tonight's 6:57 pm (or later) tip off between Gonzaga (the 11 seed) and Seton Hall (a 6 seed, and the winner of the Big East Tournament). You've probably read that Seton Hall's guards are going to dominate the day, but remember — although GU's guards have tossed away a couple wins earlier this season, they play some pretty lockdown defense. Also, Seton Hall, like most of the country, doesn't have an answer for Domantas Sabonis or, for that matter, Kyle Wiltjer. That game is televised on TruTV, which is a channel you only go looking for during March Madness.
Although they didn't make it to the NCAA tourney as they did last year, the Eastern Washington men's team secured their first postseason win in the program's NCAA history last night by knocking off the favored Pepperdine Waves out in Cheney 79-77 in the College Basketball Invitational Tournament. They'll play on Monday night against Nevada down in Reno.
Finally, I just got back from the Spokane Arena, which is all spruced up to host NCAA tournament games tomorrow and Sunday. Here's a complete rundown of all the teams here. But if you want to take a look for yourself, you can get into the arena to watch practices until 7 pm tonight, and perhaps give a friendly hello to all the out of towners here for the tournament.
Lost in the shuffle of one of the craziest basketball weeks of the year was the news that Eastern Washington University had accepted an offer to play in the College Basketball Invitational, a tournament for teams that were not offered NCAA or NIT bids.
Even more interesting is the fact that EWU got a home game in Cheney to start the tournament. They'll face off against Pepperdine, one of Gonzaga's WCC foes, tonight at 6:05 pm.Tickets are just $10 for any seat in the house and $5 for ages three to 12.
And here's something weird — the only prior meeting between EWU and Pepperdine was exactly 70 years ago today. Back then, Eastern's mascot was the Savage (ugggh) and they met the Waves in the semifinals of the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball tournament in Kansas City.
They'll have a tough opponent in Pepperdine, a squad that made it to the semifinals of the WCC Tournament before falling to eventual runner up St. Mary's. The Waves went 18-13 this year for one of their best seasons in the last decade.
By Dan Nailen
on Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 12:09 PM
The Oregon Ducks are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA West Region, and coming to Spokane to play.
After the incredibly long, often ridiculous CBS show unveiling the NCAA tourney field, we know what's happening with March Madness as it descends on the Spokane Arena, we know where Gonzaga is playing, and we still don't know exactly what the CBI is. Let's break it down:
DUCKS AND BEARS AND JACKRABBITS, OH MY!
The Spokane Arena is hosting eight teams the opening weekend of March Madness, with the games happening this Friday and Sunday. The headliner is the Oregon Ducks squad that is the No. 1 seed in the West Regional. They'll be taking on the winner of a Holy Cross/Southern University play-in game. Here's the schedule of what's coming up in Spokane; tickets will be available online and on the street if you're lucky, but you can always watch on TV:
Friday, March 18
(4 seed) Cal Bears vs. (13) Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors, 11 am
(5) Maryland Terrapins vs. (12) South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 1:30 pm Session 2
(1) Oregon Ducks vs. (16) Holy Cross/Southern, 4:30 pm
(8) St. Joseph Hawks vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
The winners of Session 1 and Session 2 will face each other Sunday at a time to be determined. Watch for this week's Inlander for a breakdown on each team.
ZAGS DANCE IN DENVER
Gonzaga won the WCC tournament what seems like months ago, and they were the last team to pop up in the too-long CBS selection show after two hours of listening to Charles Barkley fumble through opinions about college hoops that he seems to not actually watch all season.
As you prepare for tonight's WCC Championship Game (6 pm on ESPN) between Gonzaga and Saint Mary's, take a moment to give a look at this exhaustive oral history of the magical basketball season of 2005-2006, when Spokane's own Adam Morrison and Duke's J.J. Reddick were lighting up scoreboards and — for some weird reason — pissing off a lot of fans.
The NBCSports piece by Rob Dauster is rich in nostalgia as it tells of how the nation became captivated with the battle between Morrison and Reddick for the NCAA scoring title, and maybe even a national title.
I spent some time with Morrison a couple years ago, profiling him as he transitioned from his pro career to a stint as an assistant coach at Gonzaga. We talked about how he dealt with the sudden and immense fame he was inundated with that season. But here's a great quote about that same subject from this piece.
“It got to a point where it was hard for me to go anywhere. It gets to be, ‘I’ve signed three balls for you and now you’re mad I won’t sign the fourth because you want to throw it on eBay?’ As a young kid how do you interact with that situation? Because it’s never presented to you. In any situation in life, nobody gets practice on being a celebrity or whatever you want to call it. It just gets thrown on you. But it was crazy for a while. I couldn’t go anywhere.”
By Dan Nailen
on Mon, Mar 7, 2016 at 10:46 AM
Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer leads the team against BYU Monday night.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your madness!
Actually, in some cases for teams around the Inland Northwest, March Madness has already come to an abrupt end. That's a bummer for Whitworth's men's team, which lost a home game against Whitman to kick off (and abruptly end) its NCAA Division III run, and for Gonzaga's women, who lost to Santa Clara in its opening game of the WCC women's tourney.
But let's not dwell on the negative. For most of our regional hoops teams, opportunity is right in front of them. Let's break it down.
GONZAGA IS TWO MUST-WINS AWAY FROM THE NCAA TOURNEY
Even the most casual of basketball fans knows that Gonzaga hasn't had quite the dominant year that they (or HBO) imagined they would have when the season began. They lost to nearly every marquee name on their schedule, lost their starting center to injury and find themselves having to win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas this week to assure themselves a spot in March Madness.
The started strong, pummeling Portland on Saturday behind strong games from the usual suspects: Kyle Wiltjer, Eric McClellan, a resilient Silas Melson and an increasingly ridiculous Domantas Sabonis, who is suddenly capable of drilling three-pointers at will, at least against the Pilots.
After taking Sunday off, the Zags take on BYU tonight in the WCC semi-final. The game is at 8:30 pm on ESPN2. A victory would put Gonzaga in the WCC championship game Tuesday against the winner between St. Mary's and Pepperdine. That game will be at 6 pm on ESPN.
IDAHO AND EASTERN WASHINGTON HAVE BIG SKY DREAMS
On the men's side of the Big Sky, both the Vandals and Eagles have legit shots at making a run at the tournament title and landing in March Madness.
By Dan Nailen
on Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 11:34 AM
Kyle Wiltjer will try to lead the Zags to the NCAA tournament when the WCC conference tournament kicks off this weekend.
If Gonzaga's two road wins to close down its WCC season helped the team earn a tie for the conference championship (which it did, technically speaking), that's all well and good. But those wins against San Diego and BYU could have much greater significance in a little less than two weeks.
That's when Selection Sunday for the NCAA tourney goes down, and Gonzaga could obviously get the WCC automatic bid if the team goes to Las Vegas this weekend and wins the conference tournament. But even if they, say, lose in the WCC final, they could sneak into March Madness thanks particularly to Saturday night's tough win at BYU's giant, 20,000-capacity arena.
The beatdown of San Diego on Thursday was expected; that team lost to BYU by nearly 60 points a week previous. But BYU came into Spokane and beat the Bulldogs earlier this season, and were in the midst of a serious hot streak, scoring more than 90 points several times while putting together a five-game win streak.
Gonzaga wasn't looking great leading up to Saturday night. Yes, the team was undefeated against the WCC also-rans, but they were 0-3 combined against BYU and conference co-champ St. Mary's, including home losses to both. Add in losses to UCLA, Arizona and SMU over the course of the season, and Gonzaga just didn't seem capable of winning a big game.
That makes Saturday night's 71-68 win all the more significant. For the first time in recent memory, the team put together the kind of complete game they'll need to beat good teams in March Madness.