Sports

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

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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

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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.”

10 POSITIVE NUMBERS FOR EWU
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.

10 NEGATIVE NUMBERS FOR EWU
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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The Inlander is all over March Madness

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 10:20 AM

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Welcome to the best day of the year. Better than Christmas, better than your birthday (or anyone's birthday), it's the first full day of the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, you're not doing anything terribly constructive at work this morning and are rather streaming the games on your computer.

We've gone basketball crazy here at the Inlander pretty much since the season began, and you can check out all of our basketball coverage at inlander.com/madness for player profiles and updates for both Gonzaga and Eastern Washington.

I'll be heading to Seattle in the morning to cover the Zags' first round game against North Dakota State and Inlander contributor Howie Stalwick is already on the ground in Portland for the Eagles matchup against Georgetown.

In the meantime, take a look at our profile of Kevin Pangos, a heart-warming story about EWU's Parker Kelly and his dad, a rundown of the Zag women's draw in the NCAA tournament and then check back very soon for a preview of tonight's EWU-Georgetown game.
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Monday, March 16, 2015

Going mad with the Eagles and Zags

Posted By and on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM


Whether you're the kind of person who's already filled out a dozen brackets for various office/relative/online March Madness pools, or merely a casual sports observer living here in the Inland Northwest, there's a lot to keep up with thanks to Gonzaga and Eastern Washington — the only two schools from the state of Washington to make the big dance in 2015. Spokane County is home to some very hot hoops right now.

EASTERN WASHINGTON EAGLES

The Eags didn't make it easy on themselves in the Big Sky championship game. Playing the host Montana Grizzlies on their loud Dahlberg Arena floor, Tyler Harvey and Co. slugged it out in a pretty sloppy game throughout the first half and start of the second, eventually falling behind by double digits before storming back with a 21-6 run down the stretch for a close 69-65 win and trip to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2004. 
Eastern Washington players watching Selection Sunday. - EWU ATHLETICS
  • EWU Athletics
  • Eastern Washington players watching Selection Sunday.

Given that EWU would not have scored an at-large bid without the win, Saturday's victory was huge, and gives the rest of the country the chance to get to know what we've learned over the course of this Eagles season — that they are one of the most entertaining teams in college hoops.

Sure, they have the nation's leading scorer in Tyler Harvey, a man who can bomb threes from half-court and slash to the basket with ease, picking up cheap layups and a lot of fouls in the process. But the team has a lot of other assets that have made them a popular pick to pull an upset (or two) in the tourney. Venky Jois is a big man with skills. In Drew Brandon and Parker Kelly, they have an experienced backcourt, and that always seems to help immeasurably in the pressure-packed tourney games. They have badass freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk banging down low, and Felix Von Hofe capable of deep daggers from the wing. 

Another reason to think EWU has a great chance of winning their first game? Their opponent. Georgetown has become renowned in recent years for losing early in the tournament, even when they're seeded highly, as they are again this year as a No. 4. And if the Eagles get by the Hoyas (tip-off is 6:57 pm Thursday in Portland), they'll face the winner of Utah and Stephen F. Austin. The Utes struggled down the stretch and SFA is seeded just higher than the Eagles at No. 12, so neither of those teams should intimidate EWU, especially if they've already beaten Georgetown. 

And if the Eagles get really hot, who knows? They might just go on a run that lands them in a game to go to the Final Four against ... (DAN NAILEN)

GONZAGA BULLDOGS

Selection Sunday has become somewhat of a routine for us jaded members of the media in Spokane. We're always sure Gonzaga is in the tournament, it's just the details — where and who they'll play — that we're waiting on.

But coach Mark Few, taking to the podium about an hour after the Zags learned they earned a No. 2 seed and were headed to Seattle on Friday for a 6:50 pm game against North Dakota State at Key Arena, was quick to remind the assembled media that his program still finds Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament and everything that comes with it very special.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tyler Harvey drops 42 in EWU's win, just after he tells the nation why he's its leading scorer

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 1:16 PM

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This morning, Tyler Harvey, the Eastern Washington guard who has helped the Eagles to their winningest season as a Division I basketball team, talked in a first-person essay for The Cauldron, the sports page of popular e-magazine The Medium, about what it's like to be the nation's leading scorer. That's the front page of it above and it's a great read.

Then a few hours later, Harvey went off for 42 points in a 91-83 win over Idaho in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament. And yes, the Eagles, although the No. 2 seed in the Big Sky Tournament, had to play at 10 am Pacific time (11 am in Missoula, where the tourney is held this year). So, not a bad morning for the junior who nobody but EWU coach Jim Hayford would give a look at.

The article features a lot about how Harvey was undersized and under-appreciated coming out of high school and has worked his ass off to get where he is now, which we covered in our profile of Harvey earlier this season. And again, it's a great read and something basketball fans should read as we progress through March and hopefully the Eagles progress along with it.

But what speaks more about Harvey was what he did this morning in Missoula. At one point, he had hit 6 three-pointers without a miss, including four in the span of about three minutes of game time to start the second half. When he drilled one while falling out of bounds from about 28 feet away from the basket with 11 minutes left in the game, the kid already had 33 points. It was like a one-man game of horse out there.

He also had a clutch three with 2:30 left to help the Eagles pull away from a Vandals team that hung with them almost the entire way. His 42 points tied the Big Sky Conference Tournament record. Eastern is set to play the winner of the Portland State vs. Sacramento State game at 4:30 pm.

The problem, though, was that the only people who saw this insane feat (other than those inside Montana's Dahlberg Arena) did so on a hiccupy internet stream and not on national television. But if he keeps that up, that nation is going to have to notice him — even if he doesn't write any more articles.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gonzaga wins WCC Championship!

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 9:45 AM

GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics

This week, Howie Stalwick is Our Man in Vegas, reporting back to you about all the goings on at the West Coast Conference tournament.

March Madness more closely resembled Outright Lunacy when Gonzaga and BYU staged an indoor track meet that passed for basketball Tuesday night at the Orleans Arena.

By game’s end, it was difficult to determine who was more exhausted: The players, the fans or the scoreboard operator. Gonzaga’s players, accustomed as they are to winning, summoned enough energy to celebrate with one another and their Zag Nut fans as confetti rained down on the Bulldogs after they won the West Coast Conference tournament for the third straight year.
“It was just a great basketball game, played with a lot of possessions,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after an impressive 91-75 win. “A lot of heart showed by both teams.

“I’m ecstatic for our guys. We got back to playing the way we play, the way we played the majority of the season, which is attacking on offense and tough as nails on defense.”

The Gonzaga team that wobbled a bit late in the regular season looked very much like a national championship contender against BYU. The Cougars played gamely and well, but Gonzaga played superbly before a raucous sellout crowd of 8,585. As usual, the crowd consisted largely of Gonzaga fans, many of whom make the trip to Las Vegas every year for the tournament.

“To see that kind of support is inspiring,” Few told fans after the game.

THE WAIT BEGINS
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs (32-2) won’t know until Sunday afternoon where they’re playing, how high they’re seeded or who they’ll open against in the NCAA tournament. The smart money has the Bulldogs drawing a No. 2 seed and opening in Seattle or Portland. It’s the 17th consecutive trip to the Big Dance for Gonzaga, a truly remarkable accomplishment for a program that not all that long ago was scheduling the likes of Whitman, Western Montana and Eastern Oregon.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Gonzaga vs. BYU, Round 3: The Reckoning

Posted By on Tue, Mar 10, 2015 at 11:17 AM

RYAN SULLIVAN PHOTO
  • Ryan Sullivan photo

This week, Howie Stalwick is Our Man in Vegas, reporting back to you about all the goings on at the West Coast Conference tournament.


Byron Wesley played one of the best basketball games of his life Monday evening, but Gonzaga’s senior guard wasted little time talking about himself afterward. Wesley was already focused on Tuesday night’s championship game with BYU at the West Coast Conference tournament.

The fact that BYU’s semifinal game with Portland had yet to start when Wesley spoke with reporters did not faze him in the least. Wesley, like all of the Bulldogs – and, one can be certain, all of the Cougars – desperately wants to have the championship decided by the two teams that have clearly emerged as the WCC’s best.

Thanks to BYU’s 84-70 romp over Portland, everyone gets their wish. A sold-out Orleans Arena crowd and a national television audience (6 p.m., ESPN) should be treated to a dandy.

“We’re definitely looking forward to that matchup,” Wesley said after Gonzaga pasted Pepperdine, 79-61. “Hopefully, BYU wins so we can redeem ourselves for what they did to us on our Senior Night.”

For those not inflicted with Zag Mania, BYU ended Gonzaga’s 22-game winning streak and 41-game home winning streak with a 73-70 triumph Feb. 28. Gonzaga won 87-80 at BYU on Dec. 27 in their other meeting.

Both teams are loaded with size, depth and offensive weapons. Top-seeded Gonzaga (31-2) is the superior defensive team, but the second-seeded Cougars (25-8 with eight straight wins) turned in a strong defensive effort in Spokane last month. BYU’s Tyler Haws is one of the nation’s leading scorers, and versatile Kyle Collingsworth (he of the six triple doubles this season) is a gutsy warrior. Also, BYU can shoot the lights out.

THE REMATCH
The top-seeded Bulldogs (31-2) and second-seeded Cougars (25-8) are staging a rematch of last year’s title game. Gonzaga has won the past two championships, and eight of the past 11.

THE WARMUP
Pepperdine, despite being seeded fourth and having no seniors, lost to Gonzaga by just two and eight points in league play. The Waves (18-13) played Gonzaga tough in the first half Monday and scored the first basket of the second half to forge a 35-35 tie. Over the next 9 ½ minutes, Gonzaga sank 14 of 17 shots and outscored Pepperdine 30-8 in one of the most dazzling performances you’ll ever witness. “That was easily the most fun we’ve had in a game this year,” Wesley said.

THE STAR
Wesley sank 10 of 13 shots and scored a season-high 25 points. “He was feelin’ it,” point guard Kevin Pangos understated. Wesley played aggressively from the start, scored on drives and jumpers and tied his career high of four steals while playing tough defense. Strangely, Wesley made only 3 of 8 free throws on a night when Gonzaga shot better from the field (52.5 percent) than the free-throw line (47.4 percent).

THE COMEBACK KID
Gonzaga scoring leader Kyle Wiltjer, knocked out of Saturday’s game with San Francisco due to a hip injury, played 31 minutes and notched 17 points and nine rebounds. “He showed a lot of courage,” GU coach Mark Few said.

THE NUMBERS
Gonzaga’s 29th straight win over Pepperdine vaulted the Bulldogs into the tournament’s championship game for the 18th consecutive year. A victory over BYU would tie the school record of 32 wins in a season, set in 2012-13.
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Monday, March 9, 2015

Gonzaga women take an unexpected early exit in Vegas, NCAA up in the air

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2015 at 4:24 PM

GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
The Gonzaga women’s basketball team kept waiting for someone to step up at crunch time Monday. It never happened, so now the Bulldogs will be waiting until next Monday to find out if they’ll be playing in the NCAA tournament.

“I’m not 100 percent confident,” coach Lisa Fortier admitted after the top-seeded Bulldogs blew a 10-point halftime lead in a 61-55 loss to fifth-seeded BYU in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament. No seed as low as No. 5 had ever defeated a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

The Bulldogs are 24-7, but they’ve lost three of the past five games, and the WCC is lightly regarded in women’s basketball. The NCAA tournament field will be announced next Monday.

“Selection Monday is going to be a sweaty day,” GU athletic director Mike Roth said with a smile.

If the Bulldogs don’t make a sixth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, they’re a lock to play in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) and open at home. Gonzaga ranks among the national attendance leaders with a 5,399 average, and the WNIT loves a good crowd.

THE SKINNY
The Cougars ramped up their defense in the second half, when they outshot Gonzaga 50-25 percent from the field. “To be able to play defense like that in the second half is a coach’s dream,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. In the first half, Gonzaga shot 40 percent and held BYU to 26.9 percent.

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