Monday, February 15, 2016

Monday Morning Place Kicker: Zags slow their roll, EWU is very hot & the NBA All-Star game was a point-packed spectacle

Posted By on Mon, Feb 15, 2016 at 1:01 PM

There is no more football, OK? None. So get over it. It's basketball season, son. Start acting like it.

Sorry. Just had to get that out of the way after a weekend in which it seemed that not enough folks were obsessing over basketball, as they should be this deep into February. And wowee-zowie there was a lot of hoops going on over the course of the last few days. Hold onto your butts, and let's begin.

One man does not make a basketball team, sure. But when that man is Kyle Wiltjer and the team is a really unsteady Gonzaga that's lacking in reliable scoring threats other than Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, then the adage is kind of true.

And the Zags, for all intents and purposes, were without Wiltjer when they headed down to SMU for a prime-time matchup with Larry Brown's Mustangs on Saturday night. Oh, Wiltjer was there all right. He just didn't score much...and it was bad. He made just two of 17 shots (that's less than 12%) and missed all eight of his three-point attempts for just four points in the game and the Zags lost 69-60. Near the end of the contest, Wiltjer was even giving up semi-open looks, seemingly resigned to the fact that it just wasn't his night.

Sabonis, on the other hand, was a monster near the basket. He hauled down 16 boards and scored 20 points. It wasn't enough for the Zags, though, who continued to run their offense through Wiltjer well into the second half, even though that wasn't working.

In all fairness, the No. 21-ranked Mustangs are very good and given that they are ineligible to make either their conference tournament or the NCAA tournament because of a number of NCAA violations, including academic fraud, they were putting a lot of energy into this big-stage game.

Gonzaga returns to WCC play here in Spokane with games against Pacific on Thursday and what should be a good one against Saint Mary's on Saturday night on national TV.

Oh, and that Gonzaga HBO documentary we keep telling you about debuts tomorrow night. Here's a new preview.

A year after making the NCAA tournament, it was a little surprising to see Eastern Washington struggle early in the season, losing their first couple Big Sky conference games.

It seems that Coach Jim Hayford's up-tempo style is finally in place, perhaps thanks in part due to the arrival of transfer Julian Harrell, a 6-5 guard who's provided plenty of glue to the Eagles offense and added to a much-improved defense. The Eagles have won six straight games, all of them conference contests. They took down North Dakota on Thursday night 95-85 and beat up on Northern Colorado 97-80 on Saturday.

Much of the star power right now is coming from Austin McBroom, another transfer, who used his graduate year to arrive in Cheney and light up the scoreboard. He dropped 35 points on Thursday and topped that career high by knocking in 37 on Saturday. In the process, McBroom is now No. 14 on the national scoring list with 21.3 points a game. That is ahead of Kyle Witjer's 21.1 points per game.

The Eagles play their next three games on the road, leaving the comfy confines of Reese Court, where they have lost just once this season.

Early on in last night's NBA All-Star Game, I tweeted this:
It seemed like a far-off notion, but a possibility, that a team could score 200 points in an NBA All-Star Game. And hollllllly shit, it almost happened, which is why with the West up by 20 in the waning moments of the game, I was yelling at the television, imploring Steph Curry to continue shooting from wherever he felt fit. And he actually did just that. But it was too little, too late. The West won 196-173. Four measly points...

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Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey was the culture editor for The Inlander from 2012-2016. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.