Sports

Monday, March 19, 2018

Gonzaga's Zach Norvell becomes the Zags' 'spiritual leader'

Posted By on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 11:56 AM

Zach Norvell, the 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, has emerged as a star in the tourney so far. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Zach Norvell, the 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, has emerged as a star in the tourney so far.

Fans who made the trip from Spokane to Boise’s Taco Bell Arena spent
a lot of time with nervous hunger. Thankfully, Gonzaga had snacks.

“Growing up all I wanted was candy and chocolate,” guard Zach Norvell says. “Everybody called me 'Snacks.'”

The freshman saved Gonzaga’s season in each of the team’s two games during the opening weekend. On Thursday the Zags found themselves in a tight battle with UNC-Greensboro. Late in the game the Spartans made a run and took the lead, as well as all of the momentum. It looked like an upset was likely.

And then Norvell, who was one-of-seven from long range at the time, knocked down the game-winning three pointer with 21 seconds to play.

On Saturday, against an Ohio State team that followed the Spartans’ game plan and used a second-half comeback to steal momentum from Gonzaga, Norvell did a lot more than just make one big shot. He made a bunch of big shots.

With a career high in points (28) and rebounds (12), Norvell again willed Gonzaga away from the jaws of defeat. His numbers were impressive, but it was what didn’t show up on the box score that was most important in ensuring victory.

“I call him our spiritual leader,” head coach Mark Few says. “He’s got a persona that we really need in our program right now. We have an overabundance of introverts, and that’s one thing he’s not.”

Norvell may be one of the team’s few extroverts, but he’s far from the team’s only big-time, clutch performer. Which is what makes Gonzaga so dangerous this year in the big dance.

Against Ohio State on Saturday it was Norvell who led the way, while point guard Josh Perkins scored a relatively ho-hum 10 points. But when the Zags played the Buckeyes earlier this season, it was Perkins who had the impressive outing. The junior guard drained six three pointers and opened up the Buckeyes defense so that Johnathan Williams, who led the game in scoring with 21 points, could go to work in the paint.

Williams followed that initial Ohio State game with a monster performance in a loss to Florida. The senior forward went for 39 points and 12 rebounds and cemented his position as the Zags’ No. 1 option on offense this season.

If opposing teams try to lock down Williams, or Perkins, the Zags have guys like Norvell who step up.

In the West Coast Conference tournament earlier this month, it was Killian Tillie. The sophomore from France led Gonzaga to three straight wins with lights-out three-point shooting. Tillie was named West Coast Conference tournament MVP as a result.

At other times, notably in both games against arch-rival Saint Mary’s, it has been Rui Hachimura. An electric option off the bench, Hachimura’s raw athletic talent and unrelenting motor can overwhelm just about anybody. His 25-point, four-block performance on Saturday was just as instrumental in taking down Ohio State as Norvell’s, if only less flashy.

“It’s a luxury to have,” coach Few says of his team’s scoring balance. “We have seven guys who have scored 20 points (in a game) this year.”

When Florida State takes on Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 this Thursday, the Seminoles will be presented with a pick-your-poison scenario for which there is no antidote.


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Monday, March 12, 2018

Break it down: Gonzaga lands first round close to home, but an early start time

Posted By on Mon, Mar 12, 2018 at 10:26 AM

Expect a large contingent of Gonzaga's Kennel Club to make the trip to Boise for Thursday's 10:30 am game against UNC Greensboro. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI PHOTO
  • Libby Kamrowski photo
  • Expect a large contingent of Gonzaga's Kennel Club to make the trip to Boise for Thursday's 10:30 am game against UNC Greensboro.

It's hard to go back to feeling disrespected by the Selection Committee following the year of a national title game and a No. 1 seed, but here we are again, Zag fans.

Gonzaga saw their name called as the No. 4 seed in the West Region on Sunday, one of the bigger under-seedings by the committee for the entire bracket. Perhaps solace can be found in who the Zags find themselves surrounded by. The No. 1-seeded Xavier Musketeers are perhaps the weakest team to be found on any of the top lines.

Retribution could come if the Zags can weave their way to the West's championship and meet up with North Carolina. But first, they'll need to dispose of teams looking for their own payback against the Zags, as well as a sneaky-good 13 seed in the UNC Greensboro Spartans.

The Spartans are tough guarding the basket, boasting the sixth-best scoring defense in all of college basketball. The matchup will likely remind many of the Zag faithful of some of the more frustrating minutes of the games against San Diego this season. UNC Greensboro is a great man-switching defense that can also frustrate teams with the press (cue up the nightmares from that Texas game in the PK80, why don't we?).

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bennett traded, Sherman might be, too, and Ichiro is back. What's happening in Seattle?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 10:49 AM

Sounds like Richard Sherman might be joining Michael Bennett on his way out of Seattle. But hey, at least Ichiro is coming back, right?
  • Sounds like Richard Sherman might be joining Michael Bennett on his way out of Seattle. But hey, at least Ichiro is coming back, right?

Wednesday was an emotional rollercoaster if you're a fan of Seattle sports.

Seahawks Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman are on their way out? Ichiro Suzuki is back with the Mariners?

The ‘Legion of Boom’ Seahawks Go Quietly Into the Night” reads Sports Illustrated’s headline. How ominous and depressing.

I’m not a giant sports nerd, but I definitely felt a sinking feeling in my stomach when I saw news of Bennett’s trade to the Philadelphia Eagles and Sherman’s rumored departure.

WHAT IS HAPPENING?

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Twice as nice: Gonzaga men and women hoops teams both headed to the NCAA Tournament

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 10:15 AM

Gonzaga coach Mark Few saw his team put on a clinic Tuesday night in beating BYU in the WCC conference tournament. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Gonzaga coach Mark Few saw his team put on a clinic Tuesday night in beating BYU in the WCC conference tournament.

Tuesday was a great day for Gonzaga basketball.

Both the men’s and women’s teams won championship games in the West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. As a result, both teams are now locked into the NCAA Tournament. This is the second consecutive season that the women’s team is heading to the Big Dance and the 20th straight for the men’s team.

Zag men dominate BYU 74-54 to win sixth straight WCC tournament

Gonzaga is ranked No. 6 in the nation and was the top seed in the WCC tournament. Brigham Young, which lost seven games in WCC play, was the three seed. The Cougars weren’t supposed to be in this game, and it showed.

BYU’s presence in the title game came on the heels of a surprising upset of No. 20-ranked Saint Mary’s. For Gonzaga fans, getting to watch BYU dispatch their archrival in Monday’s semifinal was pretty satisfying.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Gonzaga women's basketball team wins 2018 WCC tourney title

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 3:28 PM

Laura Stockton and the Gonzaga women's team are going to March Madness. - GU ATHLETICS
  • GU Athletics
  • Laura Stockton and the Gonzaga women's team are going to March Madness.

The Gonzaga women's basketball team followed up a dominating regular season in the West Coast Conference with a championship in the conference tourney.

The Bulldogs beat San Diego Tuesday afternoon 79-71 behind an epic performance by junior forward and WCC player of the year Jill Barta, who scored 32 points on the day, including going 10-for-10 from the free throw line. Zykera Rice added 17 points, Emma Stach dropped in 15, and now the team awaits Selection Monday to find out who they'll play in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and where.

The Zags were down five after the first quarter, but exploded for 25 points in the second to take the lead for good. This championship is the team's eighth WCC championship, and fourth in six years.

The Zags will find out their next opponent and their March Madness seed on the selection show on ESPN on Monday, March 12.
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Monday, February 26, 2018

Gonzaga clinches WCC, remains among elite of basketball landscape

Posted By on Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 3:40 PM

An efficient Josh Perkins is a lethal Josh Perkins, and he was one of the reasons the Zags beat BYU Saturday. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • An efficient Josh Perkins is a lethal Josh Perkins, and he was one of the reasons the Zags beat BYU Saturday.

In a dramatic weekend for college basketball off the court, Gonzaga found a way to avoid theatrics and clinch its 19th regular season championship in 21 years.

The Zags rewarded the Brigham Young University Cougars with an anticlimactic drubbing that almost made up for the previous year's finale and sole blemish on the regular season schedule. The final two games of the Gonzaga season felt like the full spectrum of how its 2017-18 season had gone leading up to Thursday's matchup against the San Diego Toreros.

The Zags won an ugly game in the Jenny Craig Pavilion, where — like in other close regular season matchups — they did just enough to win. The back court never had a real opportunity to click, thanks to an off shooting night and a handful of questionable foul calls that left them out of sync.

Perhaps to the uninitiated, a single-digit and hard-fought game against a middling West Coast Conference team would leave questions about whether or not a team ranked six going into the night deserved to hold onto that ranking. But that would ignore the fact that the Toreros are a legitimate defensive team that slows the pace of play to a crawl and has hung tight with practically every team they've matched up with this season.

Then Saturday night happened, and viewers were able to see the potential highs that this team could see in the next six-plus weeks. The back court was on and the Cougars did not have an answer. Josh Perkins and Silas Melson put on a clinic on offense, finding the median of asserting themselves and taking what their opponent gave them. Perkins finished with 14 points and seven assists, while Melson contributed 12 points and three assists.

Zach Norvell, who still is working through his perimeter shot, brought in 15 points thanks to his knack of attacking the basket. When the three guards are able to see the ball go through the basket, the Zags look like a real tournament threat. And beating Saint Mary's and BYU on the road by an average of 13.5 points won't go unnoticed by the committee.

The Zags played great team defense, limiting the damage done by the Cougars' three-headed attack of Yoeli Childs, Elijah Bryant and TJ Haws. Notably, Bryant's dangerous three-point shooting (40 percent on the season) has disappeared when facing the Zags, shooting a combined 2-17 against them.

The results may seem unsurprising due to Gonzaga's track record, but lest we forget that Saint Mary's was the favorite to usurp the Zags a year after they made the national championship. Instead, the Zags could see themselves well into the top 16 of the committee's seeding by the time conference tournaments wrap up.

And there is some poetic justice in all of this going down in front of 19,000 BYU fans who remain unsatisfied with their transition into the WCC.  BYU's six losses this conference play are the most they've dropped since joining.

Even though this team may not be the best team that's graced the Kennel, this certainly feels like one of the best efforts coach Mark Few and his staff have compiled in a tenure known for its consistency. Three starters gone, a lottery-pick freshman nabbed and we're still left with a team that refuses to overlook its obligations.

As top-ranked teams continue to drop and we see more of the fallout and potential suspensions from the FBI investigation, who knows where Gonzaga will land by Selection Sunday. If they win out, it's hard to imagine a result worse than a four seed, while a three seed would not be out of the realm of possibility.

The Zags have put together two of their most complete games against their two biggest adversaries, a good sign for when the competition ramps up. One thing is for sure, it's good to be safe on top.
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Final road trip all that stands between Zags, another WCC regular-season crown

Posted By on Mon, Feb 19, 2018 at 5:41 PM

Two wins on the road this week and the Zags will REALLY have reason to celebrate. Namely, another WCC regular-season title. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Two wins on the road this week and the Zags will REALLY have reason to celebrate. Namely, another WCC regular-season title.

On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 10, Gonzaga was a game behind archrival Saint Mary’s for first place in the West Coast Conference standings. Quite a bit has changed in the nine days since, and Zag fans should be cautiously optimistic entering the final week of the regular season.

When Gonzaga defeated Saint Mary’s 78-65 on that Saturday evening, the Bulldogs moved into a tie with the Gaels atop the league standings. Each team had just one loss in conference play: Saint Mary’s won in Spokane and Gonzaga won in Moraga. The Gaels, though, were still in control when it came to the race for the top seed in next month’s WCC tournament.

But then, last Thursday, Saint Mary’s lost to San Francisco. And with that result, the only team capable of stopping Gonzaga’s run of conference championships from extending to six straight years became none other than Gonzaga itself.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Zags return the favor to Saint Mary's, show their March potential

Posted By on Mon, Feb 12, 2018 at 10:24 AM

Zach Norvell, Jr., was a vital part of the Zags' beat-down of Saint Mary's this weekend. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Zach Norvell, Jr., was a vital part of the Zags' beat-down of Saint Mary's this weekend.

Perhaps one of the only issues a team in the top 15 like Gonzaga can dwell on is their lack of cohesive performances.

It's a problem that's plagued all of the top 25 teams in college basketball, as highly ranked teams are consistently dropping games to unranked and middling teams in their respective conferences.

Throughout the bigger tasks of the non-conference season and in their closer matchups in the WCC, the Bulldogs haven't been firing on all cylinders while still playing well enough to win in most cases.

And after a rough shooting night in Pacific on Thursday, many had to wonder how the Zags were going to fare with one of the most efficient offensive teams in college basketball, Saint Mary's. Especially after the Gaels shot 56 percent from the field and 61 percent from three when they beat the Zags in Spokane.

But the Zags found a way to make everything click, as they dismantled the Gaels Saturday night in a game where they led by as much as 22. The back court's Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell were just as vital to the outcome as the front court's Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura, who found a way to limit the dominance of Saint Mary's behemoth Jock Landale.

In their last matchup, Landale took whatever he wanted against a Zags defense that played too deep in the key to truly limit post positioning. It resulted in a 26 points and 10 rebounds performance with an 80 percent field goal percentage for the big man.

On Saturday night, Gonzaga swarmed Jock and fought for ground before he received his inlet passes, resulting in a disengaged centerpiece who only attempted four shots and had a season-low four points. Williams constantly disrupted entry passes, forcing Landale towards the baseline and into pesky trap defenses.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Tight games and huge road trip make for a different kind of February for Zags

Posted By on Mon, Feb 5, 2018 at 3:32 PM

A road trip to Pacific and Saint Mary's this week could decided if Gonzaga wins another WCC regular season title. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • A road trip to Pacific and Saint Mary's this week could decided if Gonzaga wins another WCC regular season title.

Early February is usually smack dab in the middle of our slog through winter. But lately, things have felt a bit off. It’s been unseasonably warm, with the weather feeling more typical of early November or March. Inside, on the hardwood, it feels out of season as well.

January and February, when Gonzaga has to face the generally weaker competition of the West Coast Conference, are usually filled with blowout victories rather than tough tests. But right now Gonzaga is in the middle of a four-game stretch that looks much more like those they see in November and March than what they get in January or February.

It’s a welcome change, and a pivotal part of the season in which the Zags will define who they are.

“Anytime you can beat them,” head coach Mark Few said after Saturday’s win over BYU, “you know you beat a really good team.”

The Zags hadn’t beaten a good team since December. If only because they’ve faced just one or two such teams since the start of conference play. But now, with the Zags on the home stretch of the regular season, their schedule is getting a lot more brutal.

“We got through two games like that this weekend,” Few said.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Size matters: Zags big men vital as 3-shooting success remains elusive

Posted By on Mon, Jan 29, 2018 at 12:20 PM

Killian Tillie and his fellow "bigs" are vital to the Zags success this season. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Killian Tillie and his fellow "bigs" are vital to the Zags success this season.

It used to be that Gonzaga was known as the school of guards: Stockton, Hall, Santangelo, Dickau, Stepp, Raivio, Pargo, Pangos and Bell.

But it appears the front court is where the Zags' bread gets buttered as of late. And that narrative stayed true in the last week's matchups versus the Portland Pilots and San Francisco Dons. One night a barn burner and the other a nail biter, but ultimately both decided by the advantages Gonzaga had in the paint.

Sophomore Killian Tillie had a helluva week, dominating the glass with 43 points and 15 rebounds over the two games. The Frenchman showcased the aerial and ambidextrous skills that has put him on scouts' radars.

It's tough sometimes for players to assert themselves and find a groove in an offense and rotation as diverse and packed as Gonzaga's. How do you hunt your play when you're weaving through minutes and possessions with up to 5 other guys? Perhaps the emergence of Rui Hachimura could be part of Tillie's quiet nights offensively, but credit to the big for consistently racking up rebounds and effort plays.

And the nightly carousel of success is due to Coach Mark Few and the players finding the best way to attack opponents' mismatches when they're presented. The Pilots didn't have an answer for Tillie, just like the Dons couldn't figure out a way to stop the bleeding against Tillie, Hachimura and Johnathan Williams.

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