Friday, December 5, 2014

Gonzaga's huge, enormous game in Arizona and all the other weekend hoops you should care about

Posted By on Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 2:31 PM

click to enlarge Mark Few takes his Zags down to Arizona to face a wild beast of an Arizona team. - RYAN SULLIVAN PHOTO
Ryan Sullivan photo
Mark Few takes his Zags down to Arizona to face a wild beast of an Arizona team.

Tomorrow afternoon, Gonzaga heads down to Tucson, Arizona, to play the No. 3 team in the nation in the form of the big, fast and straight-out burly Arizona Wildcats. With Gonzaga ranked at No. 9, it's a nationally televised matchup of the best two basketball teams on the left side of the country and will finally give us the sort of look required to judge this thus-far dominant squad of Zags.

First off, the game is on ESPN at 2:15 pm. Set an alert or turn over the hour glass and be in front of a screen at that time or else everyone is going to make fun of you on Monday.

Secondly, this is the highest ranked regular season opponent Gonzaga has encountered since they faced no. 3 Kansas State in the 2010-2011 season. Since the 1998-99 season (the beginning of the Zags ongoing run of NCAA trips, aka the Post-Cinderella Era), Gonzaga has faced 13 top-5 opponents, winning four of those games. One of those wins was a somehow forgotten victory over then-no. 2-ranked North Carolina at Madison Square Garden in 2006 that might be one of the program's greatest accomplishments.

Thirdly, anyone else think that the Zag Kingdom was going to implode upon itself on Tuesday night? Gonzaga was actually losing to Southeastern Louisiana State by a point after 20 minutes, making for a nervous halftime inside the Kennel. The stench of upset was beginning to circulate through the building, but was quickly Febrezed by a 30-4 run by the Zags. Kyle Wiltjer had 20 points, Domantas Sabonis (spelled that correctly with no help, BTW) added 14 and the Kyle "The Friendly Canadian" Pangos had a dozen of his own, leading to a 76-57 win for the Zags. Had things not turned, that would have been an awful way to head down to Arizona.

Fourthly, Arizona is a terrifyingly talented team, but not in the sort of ways you'd expect. Like the Zags, the Wildcats have won all seven of their games. Unlike the Zags, these wins haven't been the sort of blowouts you'd expect from such a deep squad, especially considering their opponents. But wins are wins, and that's what Arizona did over Thanksgiving weekend when they won the Maui Classic with a performance that included tight wins over Kansas State and San Diego St., the latter being what I consider the third-best team out west. They've got some crazy-ass talent, especially in the form of freshman Stanley Johnson, who can jump out of the gym, but is also a grounded player who's averaging 14 points a game and getting better with each contest.

Annnnd, if you're a lazy fan who seems like Arizona is a familiar opponent, congratulations, you are correct. In fact, the last time the Zags lost was to Arizona when the Wildcats destroyed the Zags in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And there was also this game...

Also, Mark Titus over at Grantland thinks we should start calling the tandem of eastern European big men of Sabonis and Karnokwsi "The Low Bloc." I think we should help him make that a reality.

If you haven't seen it yet, the biggest excitement in the region's college hoops came in a crosstown women's hoops rivalry game in Cheney. Gonzaga edged the Eagles of Eastern Washington on this crazy, amazing shot.

You should really consider getting yourself out to Cheney, speaking of, when you get a chance. Eastern's men's team is a legit mid-major program this year that's currently the fourth best shooting team in all the nation. The third best shooting team? Gonzaga, which means that two of the top four shooting teams reside in Spokane County. The Eagles are coming off a shocking win AT INDIANA. Yes, that Indiana and they play a fun style of basketball you should be watching.

The only problem there is that the Eagles are on the road for almost the entire month. They head to Seattle University tomorrow to try to better their record to 7-1, which is already the team's best start in 37 years. Then it's off for road games sure to test their mettle at Cal, Washington, Sam Houston State and San Francisco.

On Sunday, the Eagles beat Eastern Oregon thanks to 38 points from Austalian big man Venky Jois, who has the most fun-to-say name in all of college basketball.

On Wednesday night, the Vandals of Idaho marched the eight miles over to Pullman and made relatively easy work of a struggling Washington State team, 77-71. Good one for the Vandals, but a scary sign of what's to come in Ernie Kent's first year at the helm down in Pullman.

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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey is the culture editor for The Inlander. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.