Sports

Monday, January 22, 2018

Don't panic, Zags fans! Gonzaga has had to chase Saint Mary's before

Posted By on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 10:25 AM

Mark Few might have an Australia problem. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Mark Few might have an Australia problem.

It’s always those pesky Saint Mary’s Gaels, isn’t it?

Since the West Coast Conference added the BYU Cougars back in 2011, which brought a third good team into the league, Gonzaga has compiled a record of 115 wins to just 13 losses against conference foes. Five of those losses have come against BYU and five, including Thursday’s 74-71 defeat in the Kennel, have come against Saint Mary’s.

Over the six full seasons since BYU joined, only Saint Mary’s has proven to be a legitimate challenger to Gonzaga at the top of the league. In 2016, despite Gonzaga losing both regular season match-ups with Saint Mary’s, the teams finished with identical 15-3 records and shared the regular season crown.

Back in 2012 Saint Mary’s managed to claim both the regular season title outright and defeat Gonzaga in Las Vegas for the conference tournament title. That snapped what was then the second-longest streak of consecutive conference titles in NCAA Division I history; Gonzaga had won 11 straight, second only to the John Wooden-coached UCLA teams of the 1960s and '70s which won 13 straight in the Pac-12 (then known as the Pac 8).

Maybe Mark Few, who owns the highest winning percentage among active college coaches, is only susceptible to Australians. Be it Matthew Dellavedova and his giant mouthguard back in 2012 or big Jock Landale, who totaled 26 points and 12 rebounds on Thursday, this season.

Whether it’s some Australian fever, or just the fact that Randy Bennett’s Saint Mary’s Gaels are actually really good, this rivalry has added some drama to the otherwise monotonous, season-long accumulation of wins that we’ve come to expect from the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

And, it’s not really been all that bad for Gonzaga. Historically, at least. The Zags have gone 13-5 against Saint Mary’s since 2011.

But it could end up hurting them this year. Looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, Thursday’s result will certainly cost the Zags when it comes to where they are seeded. Saint Mary’s is really good, but Gonzaga shouldn’t have lost to the Gaels at home.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Zags' Rui Hachimura fast becoming a WCC monster, just in time for Saint Mary's

Posted By on Mon, Jan 15, 2018 at 11:47 AM

Rui Hachimura is growing by leaps and bounds in his second season. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Rui Hachimura is growing by leaps and bounds in his second season.

The first few weeks of WCC play was rather anticlimactic up until Saturday night's Zags face-off with San Francisco.

Their margin of victory over five games eclipsed 26 points after dismantling the Portland Pilots at home earlier in the week. But the Zags are always gifted a challenge when playing in the Dons' War Memorial Gym.

Saturday night's test never felt unmanageable, but it was a helpful test for the young Zags to maintain a lead late when San Francisco would linger with just a six-point deficit. Ultimately the Zags front court proved to be too much for their opposition yet again.

A banged-up Johnathan Williams scored 17 points and had nine rebounds as the Zags interior outscored the Dons' 36-18. It was San Francisco's streaky three-point shooting and some haphazard turnovers by the Bulldogs that kept this game close.

The Zags are soundly dominating the glass, leading the conference in rebounds at 41 a game, six more per game than second place. They're also out-rebounding their foes by over 10 a game.

But if there was anything that's been proved in this early conference season it's that the WCC does not have a real answer in dealing with Rui Hachimura. Hachimura is shooting an absurd 76.7 percent from the floor in conference play, and wreaking havoc both on the wings and in transition.

In the staff's plan for Hachimura's time in Division I, his freshman season was for learning and adjusting. You could see times last year where he'd contemplate his next move whenever he had the ball, trying to decipher when to attack and when to pass.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Gonzaga remains steady in otherwise unsettled national hoops landscape

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 10:37 AM

Rui Hachimura is coming into his own in conference play. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Rui Hachimura is coming into his own in conference play.

It’s been a rough year for the top teams in college basketball, and last week was perhaps the roughest yet. Nine teams ranked in last week’s AP Top 25, and four of the top five, lost games to unranked teams.

Going on the road in conference play is never easy. Coaches know their league rivals better. Players know each other’s tendencies. Familiarity makes it more likely that a good team will stumble to an inferior opponent.

But so far for Gonzaga this hasn’t been much of a problem.

The Zags have won their first four West Coast Conference games by an average of 32.8 points. Saturday’s win in Los Angeles against Loyola Marymount was the closest of the four. The Lions managed to lose by just 19. Two days prior against Pepperdine in beautiful Malibu, the scene was a bit more gruesome. Gonzaga rolled over the Waves 89-59.

The Waves haven’t beaten the Bulldogs since January 18, 2002. It’s a 34-game losing streak that is older than some of Gonzaga’s current high school recruits.

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Zags prove to still be too much for the WCC, at least so far

Posted By on Mon, Jan 1, 2018 at 9:30 AM

Jacob Larsen has become an efficiency machine. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Jacob Larsen has become an efficiency machine.

If you checked the pulse of Zag Nation a week ago, the sky was falling. A pesky squad from North Dakota took them to the wire, and after a return to the norm against IUPUI, the Zags dropped a road game to San Diego State.

Well rest easy, because a little bit of conference play is all the Zags needed to look like the same old dogs. Playing against the WCC preseason poll's 8th-ranked Pacific and 5th-ranked Santa Clara, the Zags posted a winning margin of 82 points and it arguably wasn't even that close. Santa Clara specifically hasn't lived up to their preseason ranking as they now sit at 4-10 and saw the Zags score the first 15 points of the game.

However, Santa Clara is 1-1 in conference, defeating Gonzaga's next opponent, Pepperdine, last Thursday. The drubbing put on this last week has reinvigorated discussion in how Gonzaga can turn the second half of their season into something productive. Spokesman-Review's John Blanchette wrote about the idea of reducing the amount of games the Zags would play in conference. Unfortunately, any reduction also jeopardizes the few meaningful games in conference for the Zags.

What happens if a scheduling lottery sees one game apiece between St. Mary's and BYU? There seems to be no clear solution. Basketball—while a NCAA moneymaker—isn't quite football, and hoping for a limited yet beneficial WCC run would appear as fruitful as having your track team to fly out and race against Butler, Villanova, Providence and the rest of the Big East.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Are Zags' struggles a trend, or just a blip as Gonzaga heads toward WCC play?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 26, 2017 at 10:23 AM

The Kennel kids have had reason for consternation in recent games. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • The Kennel kids have had reason for consternation in recent games.

The Zags were unbelievably good last season. Lately, though, they’ve looked underwhelming. Are the wheels falling off, or are fans under the spell of some serious recency bias?

If you see the glass as being half full, you’ll take a 2-1 record that includes a 30-point blowout and a narrow two-point loss to a good San Diego State team inside one of college basketball’s toughest road venues. But after the Zags’ most recent three games, many fans are seeing the glass as half empty. Their focus is on how the Zags played three sloppy games in a row, all against inferior competition, and needed overtime at home to survive against a bad North Dakota team.

Both viewpoints are accurate. A 72-70 loss at Viejas Arena, against an Aztecs team likely to make the NCAA Tournament, isn’t going to hurt the Zags much on Selection Sunday. And while the play was sloppy, Gonzaga was in it until the end. But then again, they lost when they should’ve won. And North Dakota had no business hanging with the Zags, yet the Fighting Hawks nearly pulled off an upset that would’ve been highly detrimental to Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament resume.

So, what can we make of all this? Where do the Zags stand at the end of the non-conference portion of the season? It’s too soon to panic, but past time to throw away any rose-colored glasses. Maybe the best thing to do is take a look back at history.

Last season Gonzaga navigated non-conference play with a 12-0 record. This year’s Zags are clearly not as good as last year’s. Nobody expected they would be. So what’s the problem?

Gonzaga has made 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and in eight of those seasons the Zags have entered West Coast Conference play with more than three losses. In six of those eight seasons they’ve won at least one NCAA Tournament game. Three of those seasons came to and end in the Sweet 16. Back in 1999, when the Zags dropped four games before conference play, they advanced to the Elite Eight.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Gonzaga dodges upset, fires up Mark Few but not the Christmas-break Kennel

Posted By on Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 10:49 AM

Mark Few sent a message to starters Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, benching them after a near-loss to North Dakota. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Mark Few sent a message to starters Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, benching them after a near-loss to North Dakota.

Turns out college basketball just isn’t the same when school’s not in session.

It’s Christmas break at Gonzaga and the students have gone home for the holidays. Normally, roughly 1,250 of the 6,000 seats in the McCarthey Athletic Center are reserved for the Kennel Club, Gonzaga’s raucous student section. But with an empty campus, those seats are made available to the general public. Apparently, full-time Spokanites aren’t nearly as into screaming, stomping and holding signs as the students who they replaced.

The North Dakota Fighting Hawks and IUPUI Jaguars had certainly heard tales of the intimidating environment inside the McCarthey Athletic Center. What they experienced, though, was completely different.

The Kennel, without its Club, is about as loud as a library. A pretty good place to get some work done, if you’re an upset-minded team like North Dakota.

Perhaps, then, coach Mark Few decided to punish the fans for just sitting idly by as his team stumbled around on the court. In Monday’s game against IUPUI, regular starters Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie were held out of the starting lineup.

If all you’re going to do is sit there, what makes you think you deserve to see top shelf Gonzaga basketball? Okay, that’s probably not the case. The decision to take Tillie and Williams from the starting five was probably a bit more motivational than anything else. Though the coach refused to show his cards regarding the decision.

“It’s my prerogative,” Few said. “It’s what I get to do.”

Whatever the reason, the result was a good one Monday night. Tillie went for a career high 27 points, and Williams was second on the team with 17 points, along with 14 rebounds, in the 101-71 win.

“They’re fun to watch,” Few said of Tillie and Williams.

“When they don’t bring energy, when they don’t bring physicality, when they don’t bring any toughness… then we’re not as good and they’re not as fun to watch.”

The “when” that Few kept referencing came just two nights prior against North Dakota.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Zags' UW beatdown a reminder of who owns the state in hoops

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Josh Perkins is lighting it up from outside so far this season — even if some announcers don't realize it.
  • Josh Perkins is lighting it up from outside so far this season — even if some announcers don't realize it.

With a loss to Villanova, a win over Washington and some disrespectful pronunciation on television, last week was a blast from the Gonzaga basketball past.

It took until literally the final game of the 2016-2017 season for the Zags to reach two losses. This year it’s taken just a month. But both of the Zags’ losses this year have come to teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. Florida was No. 7 at the time and Villanova was No. 4. Not exactly something to hang your head about.

In all, the Zags have played three AP Top 25 teams so far this season, No. 25 Creighton being the other. During the non-conference portion of last season the Zags faced just two. It’s reminiscent of the early years of Gonzaga’s run of basketball excellence, the days when Gonzaga would travel seemingly anywhere just to get a shot at the big boys of the sport.

The Florida game was in Portland and the Villanova game took place inside New York’s hallowed Madison Square Garden. And while UW isn’t ranked, Gonzaga just spent the weekend in Seattle to face the Huskies.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Meet Gonzaga's "microwave", and time to join the #RobeGang

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 10:01 AM

Zach "Snacks" Norvell is Gonzaga's version of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson (Google him) so far this season. Just ask Josh Perkins.
  • Zach "Snacks" Norvell is Gonzaga's version of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson (Google him) so far this season. Just ask Josh Perkins.

A major reason for Gonzaga's success last year was in the team's ball movement and selflessness. Five guys averaged double digits and the team averaged 15.25 assists per game. Though early in the season, the Zags have built off of that stapled play and now have six guys averaging double digits (Rui Hachimura isn't far off with 9.8 points per game) and the team averaging a whopping 18 assists per game.

That selfless play can be found throughout their roster, notably with freshman big Jacob Larsen, who is averaging 1.3 assists in a very limited 11.9 minutes per game. Comparatively, Przemek Karnowski was heralded for his passing ability, averaging 1.9 assists in 23.1 minutes per game. Larsen shows the promise to be every bit the passer and a major face-up defender in the Zags defense, averaging nearly a block every game.

He also seems to be the linchpin for Few's deployment of the 2-3 zone. That zone style — when not facing great shooters like those found on the Creighton Bluejays — is stout and seemingly unbreakable when you have long, athletic wings and post players spacing the half-court. Guys like Larsen, Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie are how the Zags have become one of the better defenses in the entire country.

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Zags looked right at home in Portland tourney

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 11:50 AM

Silas Melson didn't hit double figures in Portland, but he had some huge plays in the Thanksgiving weekend tourney. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Silas Melson didn't hit double figures in Portland, but he had some huge plays in the Thanksgiving weekend tourney.


THE SAME TRADITION, AT A BIGGER TABLE
It might not be as timeless as entering a tryptophan-induced coma or trying to avoid political conversations with your extended family, but watching Gonzaga win games has become a bona fide Turkey Day tradition. Mark Few has led the Bulldogs to 33 wins, and just nine defeats, in tournaments taking place over Thanksgiving week.

Every step of the way on the program’s climb from Cinderella darling to championship contender, Gonzaga has made great use of these early-season tournaments.

In Few’s first seasons, when Gonzaga was still seen as a fluke rather than an elite national program, these tournaments served as rare opportunities to compete against the teams Gonzaga aspired to be. As Gonzaga developed into a perennial NCAA Tournament participant the Zags went from hunter to hunted in events like the Maui Invitational and Orlando Classic. Over the past few seasons, as Gonzaga’s level of success began to rival any program in the country, their performance around Thanksgiving became equally impressive.

Gonzaga won three Thanksgiving tournaments between 2012 and 2016. But none of those tournament fields could hold a candle to the one they’d face in 2017. So here was Gonzaga, as good of a program as exists in college basketball, firmly middle of the pack in the biggest, best early season tournament field in the sport’s history.

Ohio State, which fell to Gonzaga 86-59 in the opening round, boasts an endowment of over $3.5 billion. Texas, which fell 76-71, spent over $171 million on athletics in 2016, according to USA Today. And Florida, which needed two overtimes to defeat Gonzaga, is ranked No. 6 in the polls and very nearly upset top-ranked Duke on Sunday.

Gonzaga was not only asked to take part in the greatest event of its kind, Gonzaga excelled in it.

NO SHORTAGE OF POTENTIAL STARS
On Thursday it was Josh Perkins, who hit six of nine three pointers and electrified the crowd with amazing efficiency. On Friday, a career-high 39 points in a warrior-like performance from Johnathan Williams led the way for the Bulldogs. And Sunday, with 20 points and nine rebounds off the bench, was a coming out party for Rui Hachimura.

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MONDAY MORNING PLACEKICKER: Another rotten Apple Cup

Posted By on Mon, Nov 27, 2017 at 10:27 AM

One of the few times WSU running back Jamal Morrow was seen vertically in Saturday's Apple Cup. - WSU ATHLETICS
  • WSU Athletics
  • One of the few times WSU running back Jamal Morrow was seen vertically in Saturday's Apple Cup.

The weekend football action was largely forgettable — especially for WSU fans — but at least the Seahawks salvaged things with a workmanlike plod through the Niners. Let's break it down:

ANOTHER ROTTEN APPLE CUP

Regular Inlander readers might know that I picked the Cougs to beat the Huskies in Seattle on Saturday.

Um, ya, that didn't happen.

Instead of a thrilling showdown between two rivals, viewers were "treated" to another beatdown, this one ending up 41-14 in favor of UW, and the score actually makes the game seem closer than it really was. WSU senior star quarterback Luke Falk threw three interceptions, the Cougs' leading rusher Jamal Morrow gained all of 11 yards on the day, and defense's leader Hercules Mata'afa got ejected from the game before halftime. Maybe he was as sick of watching the proceedings as viewers at home were by then, thanks to the 24-0 halftime score and the utter one-sidedness of the game. The rest of the Cougars defense didn't do too well, either, giving up 192 yards and four touchdowns to Huskies running back Myles Gaskin.

The 2017 Apple Cup marks five wins in a row for the Huskies, and the Cougs have given up at least 40 points in each of the last three, while their offense has been exceedingly meek in the face of the UW defense. Hard to see how things will get better for the Cougs in this series. If they can't hang in a year they have an outstanding defense and record-setting quarterback, why would we think things will improve?

The loss lands the Cougs in third place in the Pac-12 North for the season and sends Stanford to the conference championship game. Up next for the Cougars: Waiting to see what bowl game they get, and whether alleged "genius" coach Mike Leach gets poached by another program. After Saturday, a few more Coug fans might be okay with that.

VANDALS HAVE FALLEN AND CAN'T GET UP

Idaho's chances of making a bowl game in their last year in the Sun Belt Conference were already gone before they played New Mexico State on Saturday, so give the Vandals credit for hanging tough and only losing 17-10, despite being outgained by nearly 200 yards. Two turnovers in the game's first six minutes killed the Vandals when the Aggies turned them into a 14-0 lead. The Vandals close their season Saturday with a game at Georgia State. 

THANK GOD FOR THE NFL?

You probably haven't heard many people saying that lately, and the ratings are lagging this season, but with a major pause in college football until bowl season arrives, the Seahawks are all we got around here.

On Sunday, Seattle hung in the playoff and division race by plodding their way to a 24-13 win on the road against 1-10 San Francisco. The Seahawks now stand at 7-4 overall, a game behind the division-leading Rams, after Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third. Up next for the Seahakws is a nationally televised home game against the hottest team in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles. The game is Sunday at 5:30 pm on NBC.
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