Monday, February 20, 2017

Still undefeated, Zags nab 5th consecutive title as WCC season champs

Of the team's 20 WCC titles, 16 have come during Mark Few’s 18 years as head coach.

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 9:52 AM

Redshirt senior center Przemek Karnowski (No. 24) has been a constant for the team these past five years. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Redshirt senior center Przemek Karnowski (No. 24) has been a constant for the team these past five years.

Saturday’s matinee was as much another blowout win as it was a display of just how good the Gonzaga men’s basketball program has been over the years.

The Zags (28-0, 16-0 WCC) won their first regular season West Coast Conference championship during the 1994 season. Their 82-61 victory over the Pacific Tigers (10-19, 4-12) clinched at least a share of the program’s 20th regular season title.

“It’s one of those things that I take a lot of pride in,” Few said.

Of those 20 titles, 16 have come during Mark Few’s 18 years as head coach. And this year’s marks five straight titles for the Zags. Few isn’t the only thing that ties these five titles together, though. There’s been another constant on the team during that span: redshirt senior center Przemek Karnowski.

“I’m just happy that for five years that I’ve been here we’ve won it every season,” Karnowski said. “It feels good.”

To win five regular season titles in as many years requires, obviously, winning a lot of games. And that’s exactly what Karnowski has done. The big man from Poland picked up career victory number 128 against Pacific. He’s now five games shy of the NCAA career record for victories, currently held by former Duke Blue Devil Shane Battier.

Karnowski’s long and storied career began in the 2013 season. As a freshman, on the first Gonzaga team to be ranked No. 1, he came off the bench behind Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower.

Olynyk, now in his fourth season with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and Dower were in attendance at the Kennel to catch this edition of the No. 1 ranked Zags. Having a couple of former Bulldogs in the house was yet another highlight in an exciting season here in Spokane.

“We’re enjoying the heck out of every day on this ride,” Few said. “Obviously we want to take it as far as possible. But we’re also going to enjoy every day and every moment and every win.”

The Zags, and their fans, have two more chances to enjoy wins before heading to Las Vegas for the WCC Tournament. Next Thursday they head to San Diego to take on the Toreros before returning home for the season finale against BYU Saturday.
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Friday, February 17, 2017

Zags stay undefeated, take down San Francisco 96-61

Karnowski and Williams-Goss once again lead the way after a tough first half

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 9:39 AM

Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski continued his late-season run of huge performances.
  • Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski continued his late-season run of huge performances.

Gonzaga’s 96-61 victory wasn’t as easy as it looked. After all, final scores never really tell the whole story.

Entering Thursday’s clash with the San Francisco Dons (18-10, 8-7 WCC) the Zags (27-0, 15-0 WCC) were winning games by an average of 23.4 points. They won their 27th by 35 to remain undefeated on the season. But don’t say they never get tested in West Coast Conference play.

“They [the Dons] can really cut you up if you’re not ready to go,” Zags coach Mark Few said after the game.

And that they did as Gonzaga trailed for most of the first half. With 9:30 to play in the first San Francisco held a multi-possession lead. On one end the Dons were dropping in threes, which teams don’t normally do against this year’s Zags. On the other, a zone defense frustrated the Zags, who were forced to swing the ball from side to side without much success.

But when the ball did get inside, big Przemek Karnowski (23 points) was ready to work. And so was the guy tasked with getting him the ball, Nigel Williams-Goss (30 points, seven assists).

“Nigel’s had a good run against them [the Dons],” Few said, “and big Shem has been delivering exceptionally well this past month.”

Last month in Gonzaga’s 95-80 victory over the Dons in San Francisco, Williams-Goss set a career high with 36 points. Thursday in Spokane he was needed once again.

Williams-Goss (15.6 ppg) and Karnowski (12.8 ppg) have been the faces of the team this season, as well as its two leading scorers, and Thursday’s performance was an affirmation of their role. But going forward for this usually balanced offense — this was only the second game all season in which two Zags scored over 20 points — they may have to step up more often.

“We have a bunch of guys capable of scoring 20,” Few said. “The beauty of it is that we have so many that we don’t always need them to.”

Unfortunately, that bunch has shrunk. A broken finger kept Killian Tillie out of the game, and Bryan Alberts was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Few stressed how players would need to step up to fill those absences. Going off of Thursday’s example, it looks as if his upperclassmen leaders are up to task.

It was a sluggish start against a streaky opponent, coupled with a shortened bench, that tested Gonzaga Thursday. Saturday afternoon the test will come from the Pacific Tigers.
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Monday, February 13, 2017

Weekend hoops: Gonzaga's open road, Cougars rough weekend in the mountains

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 10:17 AM

Przemek Karnowski had a dominant game against St. Mary's on Saturday. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Przemek Karnowski had a dominant game against St. Mary's on Saturday.

As we hit mid-February, it's time to turn our full attention to March Madness (with all due respect to my fellow baseball fans geeking out over the start of spring training with pitchers and catchers reporting this week).

Here in the Inland Northwest, that means tracking Gonzaga, obviously, who received one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA's first-ever preliminary seeding announcement over the weekend, but also Eastern Washington, Idaho and Washington State, who all need to make a run through their conference tournaments to get into the Big Dance.

Let's break it down:


On Saturday, the NCAA revealed its first list of the tourney's top 16 seeds, a blatant attempt to build up the hype to Selection Sunday. Obviously those seeds will move around a lot between now and the end of the conference tournaments in early March, but the big news was that Gonzaga got a preliminary No. 1 seed — but was only the No. 4 overall seed, behind Villanova, Kansas and Baylor.

That, of course, got some Zags fans up in arms about being "disrespected" by the selection committee. Whatever — does anyone ever remember who the No. 1 overall seed is after March Madness gets going? Nope. Getting a No. 1 seed and winning the West Coast Conference remain the Zags primary goals, and they got a step closer to that Saturday when they went to St. Mary's and beat the Gaels for the second time this year. The Zags are now two games up on St. Mary's with four games to go, including games this week against San Francisco and Pacific in The Kennel.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Weekend hoops: No. 1 Zags keep rolling; EWU, Idaho hanging tough in Big Sky

Posted By and on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 10:40 AM

Silas Melson (center) stepped up with Nigel Williams-Goss injured and unable to play Saturday. - AUSTIN ILG
  • Austin Ilg
  • Silas Melson (center) stepped up with Nigel Williams-Goss injured and unable to play Saturday.

It wasn’t a good weekend for teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll.

When No. 1 Gonzaga’s starting lineup was announced Saturday evening, and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss wasn’t in it, there was reason to fear that Gonzaga would be the seventh team ranked in the top 10 to lose on that day. But instead the Zags (24-0, 12-0 WCC) showed why they’re the top-ranked team in the nation with a 90-55 dismantling of Santa Clara.

Just two days after the team needed a superhuman performance from Williams-Goss to survive against BYU — the junior scored 24 points in the second half, on a sprained ankle which kept him on the sidelines Saturday — Mark Few’s squad would have to go without their star.

“It was great,” Few said. “It created an opportunity for the next man up.”

That next man up was Silas Melson, who got his fourth start of the season. Melson scored only four points, but he accounted for just one missed shot and made no turnovers. Most importantly though, he played lockdown defense on one of the best scorers in college basketball: Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge.

“I don’t know how many times we’ve played him [Brownridge] now, 10 or 11,” Few said. “That might’ve be the best job we’ve done on him.”

Brownridge, who averages over 18 points per game, managed just 13 on Saturday.

Scoring 90 points might lead people to overlook the defensive effort Gonzaga put forth against the Broncos. But that defense is the very reason this team made it through a tough week unscathed, unlike virtually every other team near the top.

On Thursday against BYU the story was Williams-Goss. It was that Gonzaga has a point guard who deserves to be in the conversation not just for the Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the best point guard in the country, but for national player of the year award as well.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

It's official, the Zags rule all the college-hoops land (for now)

Thursday's game at BYU airs on ESPN2 at 8 pm

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 9:53 AM

Johnathan Williams is one of the top-tier transfers who helped Gonzaga get back to No. 1 in the polls.
  • Johnathan Williams is one of the top-tier transfers who helped Gonzaga get back to No. 1 in the polls.

This won't come as a shock to anyone who pays attention to such things, but Gonzaga's men's basketball team officially scaled to the top of the Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll when the results of the latest round of voting were revealed this morning. It's only the second time they've reached No. 1 in school history.

It's no surprise because a week ago the Zags were at No. 3, ranked behind Villanova and Kansas, two formidable presences. But both those team took losses last week, while Gonzaga continued steamrolling through its West Coast Conference schedule. On Saturday, they went on the road and delivered a 96-49 beatdown of Pepperdine that's become almost normal in its efficient ruthlessness this season.

What makes Gonzaga different than the typical No. 1 team in the weekly poll? Well, they rarely get to the top spot during the regular season, even though teams regularly move around within the upper tier of the rankings. Call it an East Coast bias, or simply disrespect to the quality of Gonzaga's conference opponents, but voters typically don't give the Spokane squad much love.

Also making Gonzaga different? This year, they just might not give up the No. 1 before March Madness rolls around. They still have road games against BYU and St. Mary's (currently ranked No. 18), their two toughest foes in the WCC, but this ain't your normal Zags team. They're not even that similar to the team that reached No. 1 four years ago, in that the combination of excellent transfers (Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Matthews, Johnathan Williams) and homegrown talent (Przemek Karnowski, freshman Zach Collins) has blended quickly into a defensive force, as well as the offensively explosive team Zags fans have come to expect through the years.

Gonzaga always has a target on its back in the WCC as the team to beat, and being ranked No. 1 in the nation won't change that. Next up? What is suddenly the biggest game of the year when the Bulldogs visit Provo for a showdown with BYU at the school's 19,000-capacity Marriott Center. The game is Thursday at 8 pm and will be shown on ESPN2.
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Friday, January 27, 2017

Spokane UFC fighter Julianna Peña faces biggest test yet this weekend

Ranked the No. 2 women's bantamweight, Peña stands to gain a title shot if victorious

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Peña (left) won her last UFC match, against Cat Zingano, in July 2016.
  • Peña (left) won her last UFC match, against Cat Zingano, in July 2016.

If you're a follower of mixed martial arts and the UFC, you may know that Spokane's highest-ever ranked athlete in the organization is facing her next opponent Saturday night. If you're not a follower (or rather, more of a casual fan of the oft-bloody combat sport) we're here to fill you in on feisty Spokane daughter Julianna Peña's next turn in the octagon this weekend.

Currently ranked the No. 2 women's bantamweight (135 lbs.), Peña has been rising in the ranks since returning to the division in 2015 following a serious knee injury that was almost career-ending. As the main card event for this weekend's UFC Fight Night Denver, Pena faces the No. 1 Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan. (In the UFC, each division's champion is at the "zero" spot; Brazil's Amanda Nunes is the current bantamweight champ.)

Though the odds favor Peña's opponent, they're very, very close odds, which means it stands to be a close five-round match with high potential to be quite exciting, considering Peña's early, aggressive bursts. And if she wins, and thereby moves into the No. 1 spot, Peña is almost ensured that her next fight will be against the champ Nunes.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Zags still undefeated after crushing San Diego; chasing a No. 1 ranking

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 at 10:17 PM

  • Nigel Williams-Goss

A large cardboard zero, representing the number of times Gonzaga (21-0, 9-0 WCC) has lost so far this season, has been floating around the student section for the past several home games. Tonight there was a large cardboard one numeral in the Kennel Club as well, not in case Gonzaga lost, but because of where the Zags are headed.

On Tuesday night, No 1. Villanova, No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky all lost. And with that, the way was paved for No. 3 Gonzaga to ascend to the top of the college basketball rankings for the first time since they earned the top stop at the end of the 2013 season.

With a 79-43 win over San Diego (10-11, 3-8 WCC) Thursday night, Gonzaga moved a step closer to that number one spot.

This is a San Diego team that, despite its record, can really score. On January 14 the Toreros put up 88 points in a victory over BYU. Gonzaga held them to less than half that number.

“That’s not an anomaly,” head coach Mark Few said of the Zags’ defensive performance. “That’s what we set out to do.”

Few’s right, even though defense is historically an Achilles’ heel for his teams. San Diego managed a paltry 0.66 points per possession Thursday, which this season is more the norm than the exception for teams playing the Zags. Gonzaga ranks fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency by holding teams to just 0.89 points per possession.

Nigel Williams-Goss led all scorers Thursday with 25 points. Johnathan Williams recorded his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds. University High product Brett Bailey, who leads the Toreros in scoring this season (17.4 ppg), did not have a happy homecoming. The senior forward managed just 5 points in his final collegiate trip to Spokane.

Gonzaga jumped on the Toreros early with a backwards but effective style of offense that has become almost typical of this team.

Przemek Karnowski, the 7-foot-1 center, dished out four assists over the first 10 minutes while Williams-Goss, the point guard, scored at will and connected on his first seven shots. The scoring column of the box score doesn’t look as balanced as we’re used to with the Zags, but the balance of skill at all positions was very clear on the floor.

It’s the kind of balance and skill that top teams have. And should the Zags win Saturday at Pepperdine, that top team will more than likely be them.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Gonzaga and St. Mary's finally face off — and it's all Zags

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 10:07 PM

Nigel Williams-Goss had a game high 19 points in a beat-down of Saint Mary's.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss had a game high 19 points in a beat-down of Saint Mary's.

It’s still technically winter break at Gonzaga, but a date with arch-rival Saint Mary’s drew the Kennel Club back to campus a few days before classes start up this week. 

After a string of games in front of docile crowds for the holiday break, the students showed a national television audience just how electric this building can be, even in a blowout.

And that youthful  energy powered the fifth-ranked Zags to a 17-0 record by dispatching the 21st ranked Gaels 79-56.

“We know it’s the toughest game on the schedule,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said of the annual trip to Gonzaga.

That tough atmosphere came into play in the Zags favor over the final minutes of the first half. After a string of lackluster defensive possessions, Mark Few had his team employ a trap on a Saint Mary’s inbounds play. It frustrated the Gaels and the ball ended up with Johnathan Williams near half court. The junior forward took it to the basket for a thunderous dunk that sent the Kennel into a frenzy.

The building kept rocking as the Zags followed that by forcing a shot clock violation.

Saint Mary’s likes to play slow on the offensive end, with their possessions this season lasting an average of 20 seconds. But if they last 30 ticks, they're served with a violation. Gonzaga’s defense frustrated the Gaels all night, blocking six shots and forcing nine turnovers.

On the offensive end, Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with a game-high 19 points and six assists. Jordan Mathews (16 points), Johnathan Williams (14 points) and Zach Collins (10 points) also scored in double figures. Most impressively, however, was  the Zags' shooting touch tonight.

Of the eight Bulldogs who saw game action before garbage time, only Przemek Karnowski (nine points) shot below 50 percent from the field. Overall, Gonzaga went 65 percent from the field Saturday. And that happened against a strong defense.

Saint Mary’s gave up 56.6 points per game over their first 16 contests this season. The hot shooting Zags needed just 31 minutes to pass that mark.

Gaels’ junior center Jock Landale, an all-America candidate averaging 17.8 points per game, was held to just 10 tonight. The big Aussie went into foul trouble early in the first half, and again in the second, before fouling out of the game late.

When he picked up his fifth and final foul a full throated Kennel Club let a chant rain down on the Gael, “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

EWU's Cooper Kupp named FCS Offensive Player of the Year

Posted By on Thu, Jan 5, 2017 at 11:18 AM

EWU receiver Cooper Kupp is the national offensive player of the year.
  • EWU receiver Cooper Kupp is the national offensive player of the year.

The season might not have ended exactly as Eastern Washington's players and fans wanted thanks to a freakish play at the end of their semifinal matchup with Youngstown State, but there is still plenty to celebrate from the Eagles' season.

Top of that list is a successful senior campaign by star wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who today was awarded the Offensive Player of the Year award for a season that featured him making 117 receptions for more than 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also ran for several hundred more yards and a few more TDs.

Kupp was just one part of the Eags' prolific offense, but his decision to return for his senior year rather than going to the NFL set the tone for an entire team dedicated to trying to win a national championship. The fact they fell just short does nothing to detract from Kupp or the team's efforts.

Kupp is currently training for the NFL draft and won't attend the FCS national championship game in Texas to get the award in person. He's a four-time consensus All-American and ended his career with more receiving yards than anyone in college football history, at any level.

The NFL draft, where we'll learn where Kupp with be catching balls next year, runs April 27-29.
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Friday, December 30, 2016

Zags crush Waves, play Pacific on New Year's Eve

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2016 at 12:03 PM

Gonzaga coach Mark Few got the team to buckle down on D at halftime. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Gonzaga coach Mark Few got the team to buckle down on D at halftime.

The sound of shoe squeaks bounced around a near-silent McCarthey Athletic Center for 40 minutes as the Zags and Waves played in front of a sold out but student-less crowd Thursday night.

Back when the Zags were rising to national prominence the Waves were their chief competition in the WCC. This season Pepperdine sits dead last in the league with a 4-9 record. In conference play, though, there is so much familiarity that even last place can scare the league leaders. Gonzaga eventually rolled past the Waves, opening conference play with a win for the 21st consecutive season. But in the first half of this 92-62 victory, it wasn’t pretty.

Pepperdine in the first half shot over 50% from the field and connected on four of eight from long range against Gonzaga’s best-in-the-nation three point defense. But Gonzaga was lighting it up as well. Led by Jordan Mathews’ 5-11 shooting display four Zags combined to make 10 three pointers.

Przemek Karnowski and Nigel Williams-Goss led the team with 16 points a piece. Five Zags scored in double figures. Balanced, as always. Pepperdine’s Lamond Murray Jr. scored the game high with 19. And Chris Reyes added 10 points of his own, but suffered his second loss to the Zags in 2016. Reyes previously played for Utah, which Gonzaga knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.

Assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said at halftime that the Zags weren’t hustling. Well, early in the second half a full-court press forced the Waves to turn the ball over. And on the next possession enormous human Karnowski stole the ball. From that point the Gonzaga lead, which had been floating in the single digits for most of the game, expanded into the teens and twenties.

The game clearly in hand, Mark Few was able to empty his bench late, allowing fan favorite Rui Hachimura and birthday boy Bryan Alberts to see the floor. With their entrance the crowd erupted. It took until the 2:38 mark of the second half but there was a huge lead and a lot of noise. And the Kennel, even without its club, felt normal.

Next up for the 13-0 Bulldogs is a New Year’s Eve date with the Pacific Tigers in Stockton, California.
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