Gonzaga handled Cal Poly, dispatching the Mustangs 63-50, on Saturday night in the 12th annual Battle in Seattle at KeyArena. To which Seattle Zag fans seemed to collectively shrug their collective shoulders.
The Battle in Seattle was once one of the highlights of any Gonzaga season, but unfortunate scheduling in the past couple years has led to less the marquee competition and sucked the excitement from KeyArena. While the Zags drew 16,241 in the 2012 Battle in Seattle versus Kansas State, they only mustered 11,741 for Cal Poly (though that’s an increase over the abysmal turnout for South Alabama last year: 9,140).
It’s hard not to jump to the conclusion that a section of the Seattle GU fan base is a little spoiled. Cal Poly, really? Why would I go to the game when it’s just gonna be a blowout? Seattleites don’t live and breathe Zaga hoops on a daily basis like Spokane residents. That’s not to say Battle in Seattle isn’t a community event for local alumni. Nearby KeyArena the Seattle Center campus, the Gonzaga Alumni Association’s Seattle Chapter hosted a pregame social at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. The event drew between 900-1,000 for drinks, food, photo opportunities, and pseudo reunion festivities.
While Gonzaga tickets are worth their weight in gold in Spokane and the fans bring the passion, the fervor has seemingly dissipated along that stretch of westbound I-90 over the recent years.
As coach Mark Few noted, “There’re a lot of people from Spokane, every year, that come over to (Battle in Seattle) because they can’t get into our games over there,” adding, “Obviously, it would’ve been great to have this one in Spokane, instead of here. But we kind of suck it up and do it for those other reasons.”
There’s also something incongruous about the lack of excitement on the west side, because it’s still mostly Gonzaga that’s the real draw, not the opponent. KeyArena would not be packed for Kansas State versus Seattle University. So shouldn’t a Zags team in ranked in the Top 10 rally fans to attend (after all they were only ranked #14 when they played K-State)?
As the final tune-up before conference play, the game itself provided a decent preview of how many WCC games will likely go this season. Przemek Karnowski led the way with 16 points and 8 rebounds, with Kevin Pangos matching The Karnovore
’s 16 points, including 4 3-pointers.
And while the game was never in doubt, the Zags had enough stretches of careless play, dumb turnovers, and missed open shots to keep the score closer than it should be. It also highlighted a few flaws that seem to haunt every Bulldogs team. The undersized Gonzaga guards struggle mightily when trying to pass into the post, which is especially an issue when the team’s best scorer and passer – Karnowski – consistently gets good position against his smaller opponents. They were especially flustered when Cal Poly’s 1-3-1 zone defense began to press and trap the GU ball handler outside the arc.
While the tilt against Cal Poly was Gonzaga’s last scheduled game at KeyArena this year, don’t count on it being team’s final trip. It’s not a lock, but all signs point to the Zags making a return trip in March, as it’s one of the sites the NCAA tournament
And you won’t have to worry about those games being undersold or lacking intensity.