March 29, 2015

Gonzaga's Bell Jr. And Pangos Reflect On Time As A Zag

Powerful video of Gonzaga seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. explaining what it's meant to be Zags. Gonna miss these guys. Class acts!

Gonzaga's Bell Jr. And Pangos Reflect On Time As A Zag - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Gonzaga vs Duke for a trip to the Final 4

I have been walking on clouds all day. That win over UCLA was very, very, tasty. No only that, but it exorcised the 17 point come-from-behind loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16 way back in 2006. 

It also puts the Zags into the Elite 8 for only the second time, with the added bonus and possibility of getting some pay-back for an embarrassing loss to Duke that I have not been able to put behind me, yet.
Yes, on Sunday Gonzaga gets to play Duke for a chance to go to their first Final 4. Additionally, they get an opportunity to avenge that embarrassing beat-down suffered at the hands of Duke on a national stage on December 19th 2009, in Madison Square Garden.
At the time Gonzaga was ranked #15 nationally while Duke checked in at #7. Duke absolutely dominated, while holding Gonzaga to its lowest point total in 25 years, in a 76-41 blowout victory in the Aerospatiale Classic. I have hated Duke ever since.
This time around the Zags are a #2 seed while Duke is a #1 seed. Both have depth, talented bigs, potent offenses, solid defenses, and to be honest, seem pretty evenly matched. Gonzaga is the #1 team in the nation in field goal percentage, while Duke is #4. The Zags have a record of 35-2, winning 28 of their last 29 games, while Duke is 32-4, winning 18 of their last 20. Gonzaga scores 79.1 points per game, while Dukes scores 80.6. Gonzaga has a lot of experience, namely, a talented senior backcourt of Bell and Pangos. Duke is young, having a freshman trio of future NBA’ers in Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow.

But something’s gotta give. Perhaps it will come down to whoever can overcome the odd set-up of the venue, which has seemed to bother shooters. NRG Stadium is the home of the Houston Texans. It has been converted so as to resemble a basketball court, but there are no walls behind the baskets. Add in the black drop cloths at both ends and it seems to be screwing up player’s depth perception. 
Kyle Wiltjer doesn't think so saying “"We just missed shots," He added,” You either make them or you don't. We don't really blame it on the arena or anything like that." But, the Zags had their worst shooting night of the season, going a woeful 3-19 from deep (15.8%) and Duke only went 3-13 (23.1%) in their last game. Also, according to Ken Pomeroy, 30 teams playing 30 games at the venue since 2002 have shot just 32 percent from 3-point range. Need more proof? Butler shot 18.8% there in 2011 against Uconn in the title game, so this is not a fluke, It’s hard to shoot there.
Because no-one can shoot there, haha, it most likely will come down to youth vs experience and who has the better bigs. Whoever can control the paint and score inside will determine who advances. I favor Gonzaga’s experience over the more talented albeit youthful Duke players. Also, the Zags are more potent inside with their trio of Karnowski, Wiltjer and Sabonis. If Gonzaga’s bigs can stay out of foul trouble, they will wear down Okafor enough to get the win.

Presently, the Zags are 2.5 point underdogs, but I see an upset in this one. Gonzaga will surprise the Dookies with the 74-69 win and move on to their very first Final 4. The only thing left now is the waiting…and another sleepless night!

March 26, 2015

Gonzaga vs UCLA in the Sweet 16

It’s been a long time since anyone’s been able to write a pregame about Gonzaga playing in the Sweet 16. It certainly feels nice.

It’s also fitting that the opponent is UCLA too. Not only do the Zags get to play in the Sweet 16, they also get a chance to exact some revenge on the team that came from 17 down, pulling off a miracle, to knock them out of the dance the last time Gonzaga played the Bruins in the Sweet 16. The game I’m talking about is the game people remember where Adam Morrison was seen crying as he sat on the hardwood at the end of that nightmare.

Adam has long since graduated and is now with the team as an assistant. Certainly, he’d love to be a part of this team that has a chance to get some payback.

Gonzaga enters this game a #2 seed while UCLA is an #11 seed. Beating UCLA should be very doable as the Zags already whipped them in Pauley Pavilion with ease (87-74) earlier this season. This time around it will be on a neutral court, in Houston.

So, should there be any concern about winning this game and making it to the Elite 8? It’s said that beating a team twice in the same season is a difficult thing to do. Also, UCLA is hot. Well, that’s what I keep hearing. They've won six of their last seven games, but the Zags have won 27 of their last 28. They pounded BYU while winning the WCC Tourney Championship game, as well as running over Iowa to advance to this Sweet 16.  Somehow, I don’t think Zags anywhere should be too concerned.

That being said, This Bruin team has elite players with superior talent and athleticism. They have size, deep shooters, NBA prospects, and excellent rebounding. They are one of the top teams in the nation in scoring and one a very few teams that boast a starting line-up where all five score in double figures.

Coach Alford’s son, Bryce, is the point guard and he is an outstanding one. He scores 15.6 ppg, 5 assists, shoots .844 from the foul line, and a very respectable .392 from deep. He will be matched up with Kevin Pangos. Bryce has a couple inches on Pangos, who seems to struggle at times with big guards. Last time they faced each other Bryce went off for 23 points while Pangos had only 9.

But, Byron Wesley had a monster game going off for 20 points and 9 rebounds, while holding UCLA’s leading scorer Norman Powell (16.4) to 3/11 shooting. Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr. and Wesley will need to get up in his grill and slow him down.

UCLA’s outstanding pair of bigs, Kevon Looney and Toney Parker, ave. 23/16 points and rebounds per game between the pair. However, Gonzaga has a 1, 2, 3, punch with Karnowski, Wiltjer and Sabonis. The last time they faced off the Zag’s bigs outplayed UCLA's scoring a total of 44 points. Looney and Parker only managed to put up 19 total points. Kyle Wiltjer had a monster game leading all scorers with 24 points.

The lack of depth is a problem for the Bruins. They have a formidable starting five, but after that they fall off. They basically have no bench. Once again, Gonzaga needs to use that weakness to their advantage. Rotate players in and out to wear UCLA down. Also, get them in foul trouble. They basically have no-one on the bench that can out perform Gonzaga's starters, or for that matter, their bench. Additionally, UCLA has a tendency to get off to slow starts. They have had to climb out of half-time deficits to get wins on occasion. It would be nice if Gonzaga got off to a fast start, just like in their last meeting. Jump on them early and keep the pedal to the metal.

Many pundits are calling for an upset here, but I just don’t see it. The Zags have been to the Elite 8 once, a long time ago. With the way they are playing, their senior back-court, depth, trio of bigs, transfers who came here to win, I feel a return is imminent.

Gonzaga 83 UCLA 72

March 19, 2015

Demetri Goodson's last second shot for Gonzaga Bulldogs in win over West

Every year I like to watch this clip where the Zags Demetri Goodson puts Gonzaga into the Sweet 16 with this last second shot. Being that tomorrow night it's GO time for the Zags in Seattle's Key Arena vs the North Dakota State Bisons, I figured it would be a great time to have another look.

It still gives me chills...GO Zags!!~

March 17, 2015

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few Answers Questions

We had a chance to speak directly to Mark Few yesterday and ask him some questions about the upcoming NCAA Tourney, their first opponent, and more.

To start with, when Coach Few was asked about “broad-stroke” thoughts regarding their first opponent, the North Dakota State Bisons, he had this to say- “I am impressed with North Dakota State. They won their league and conference tourney. That’s a really difficult thing to do. It shows some toughness. Another thing that is impressive about them is that they were in this thing last year and won a game. They will not be wowed by anything. We know from being in this thing so many times, we will have to play very well to move on.”

Assuming Coach Few was somewhat familiar with NDS, as former assistant Coach Ray Giacoletti was from there, Few was asked about the connection. He had this to say “Ray is as good a friend as I have out there. I remember when Ray was out there in Fargo ND. He played an important part here recently. Some of the guys he helped recruit and develop are still here. I remember when Ray was out in Fargo that their current coach used to work for him.”

Coach Few went on to say that “NDS is a really good team. They have a heck of a player in Alexander. They shoot well from the three line and want to keep the score down.” He also said that “at this point they’ll start watching film on them and that’s where they are at right now.” 

He was asked about the process of preparing and scouting NDS and also for a potential team you might face should you advance. Few said “We have 5 veteran guys watching, assimilating game tape. One guy would be responsible for NDS, one for Davidson, and one for Iowa. They are now at it as we speak and we’ll be ready to practice and go tomorrow for NDS.

When asked about the long gap between the end of the WCC Tourney and the start of this one’s impact, as to if it was good, or better to rest, he replied “I don’t know. It’s the only way we’ve done it so I can’t compare. From a coaching standpoint anytime you can get your guys rest, it’s a pretty good thing especially after a long year.”

He added that they were trying to stay competitive by having hard practices, and going at it 5 on 5. He spoke about the fact that NDS plays the type of style that we’ve been used to playing in the WCC Conference. Teams such as San Diego, Pepperdine, and Santa Clara all tend to play that “possession by possession, slow tempo style." They’ve seen it some in the preseason and a lot in the WCC.

When asked to give a sense of how he thought the team was playing right now he felt that although they had not played real well for a couple weeks, they played much better in the Tourney down in Vegas, especially the past couple of games. He clarified by adding “We shook the dust off and got back to playing the way we like to play and doing the things we like to do, being aggressive.”

He also spoke about the season’s overall play describing how “sometimes it’s week by week. Starting out the season they had an experienced team that jumped out early and were gelling.” “You’re never going to play great all year long, there are bouts of mediocrity. But, the most important thing is that they are healthy” and “the guys feel good about how they played the last couple of games down in Vegas.”

Lastly, he said BYU must have felt some angst being pretty much the last team called, but that he was happy for them that they made it in.

March 16, 2015

Round Robin Q & A with Zag Players

We had a round robin of Q&As with some Gonzaga players is what they had to say:

First, Gary Bell was asked about his history playing in Key Arena and if he was a Sonic’s fan. He said ”I was definitely a Sonic’s fan and went to a couple games as a kid.” He also mentioned that he “played there four games in the battle in Seattle” and was “pretty familiar with the floor and was "glad to be playing there.” Bell also mentioned that "losing to BYU gave us a chip on our shoulder and helped us step our game up. It showed us we can lose and it got us going."

Asked if he had any trepidation about playing a 15 seed where people might get on the back of the underdog, Bell said "No, we won’t have any fear. We’ll just go out and play our game." and that "when we’re playing our best we’re hard to beat. We’ll go out there and give it our all, 100%."

Kyle Wiltjer was asked what he'd been doing since the WCC Tourney, what had he been focused on? His response was that “We've just been focused on getting better everyday, competing against each other, and we’re excited to know who we’re going to be playing so we can prepare for someone else now. Asked if they were playing their best basketball he replied "No, we’re leaving that for the tournament."

When asked how was it handling the emotion from beating BYU. Was it an especially emotional victory? He replied “it was just an average one for us. We just wanted to use that win to get better and learn from it moving forward and realize how hard we played."

Kevin Pangos was asked if anything was particularly striking in regards to the selection show today and being in the south region, to which his reply was "nothing really stuck us as a surprise but it was nice to see that we were in Seattle where our fans can travel and it’s nice and close." Also, "its an Arena that we've played at before, we’re happy with the bracket and that we’re a 2 seed. Now all we have to do is play really well."

Asked if he had any feelings about potentially playing EWU he said "no, not really, it might have seemed a little weird since they are so close but no, we’re just happy to be in Seattle. "we didn't care who we played."

Asked if they had any thoughts on BYU making the tourney, they all laughed, then Pangos said "not really, it's good for our conference. But we're focused on ourselves. Pangos said they don't really talk much about the "streak" of consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tourney, because they live in the moment. But it shows the consistency we have in the program, but, it's the past and we want to focus on our journey this year."

More Q@A's with Coach Few later.... update: here is that link!--   Mark Few

GO Zags!!~

Here we go...Bring on the MaDnEsS!

My favorite time of the year is finally here. To me, March Madness is more exciting than the Superbowl, World Series, and NBA Championship all rolled into one. Why? Because it's college sports. Do or die. One loss and you go home. The best of the best going head to head in a loser out scenario. Upsets galore. Fantastic finishes, and on and on.

So the Zags get the South region taking on the NDSU Bisons of the Summit League in their first challenge. The Bisons (23-9) got into the dance via winning their conference tourney. While they are not an exceptional offensive powerhouse (don't expect a lot of points), they have a very good defense. They love to slow down the pace of the game and play suffocating defense. Playing in essentially what will be a home game, look for the Zags to get past these Bison's by pulling away in the second half to advance in the Tournament.

In my opinion, Gonzaga has drawn the best possible avenue to a chance to advance to their first Final 4. I love this bracket. Given the alternatives, we couldn't have asked for a better one.

Here is a terrific tool to use in helping fill out your brackets provided to me from Christi over at Campus Insiders. Thanks Christi!  March Madness Bracket w/ team info

* If anyone happens to win one of these MILLION dollar brackets, remembering poor ol Gaz in a benevolent sort of way would be kind of cool!

March 14, 2015

Zags Win WCC Championship While Gaz Stumbles, Bumbles around Vegas

Confetti Time
Sorry this is late, but I am just now arriving home from our trip to Las Vegas and getting a chance to write something up. First, a little background on what went wrong, then I'll get to some pictures and the reason for going in the first place, the Zags.

Why the late return? Alaska Air oversold our connecting flight home from Seattle to Spokane. So, we were stranded in Seattle, along with about 25 other unhappy Gonzaga fans. To make matters worse, my laptop and phone were stolen early on during the trip. Although I did manage to get some pictures and tweets out with a borrowed phone, the coverage I expected to provide was not anywhere near what I had hoped for. I apologize for that. Not only am I a huge fan, but I want to be able to share insight with people that are unable to attend. Without proper equipment, I found myself more of a spectator than a reporter. That was not the plan. However, now that I have experienced a WCC Tournament, it will be much easier to fine-tune some things that went wrong, which will help in next year's coverage.

Gaz hanging out in Upper Media Area

Our room on the 53rd floor of the Palms Place Casino Resort also provided me with some unpleasant surprises, namely, the TV's were inoperable and there was no internet/WiFi connection for two days. We didn't realize it the first night as we got in just in time (our flight was late) to run over to catch the first Gonzaga game (missed 10 mins of the first half). No laptop, no phone, no TV, and no WiFi connection. Needless to say, things had gotten off to a rocky start. Talk about an information blackout!

View from room in Vegas, 53rd Floor -Where the oxygen masks?

Since the news regarding the Zags winning the Championship is old news at this point I'll simply add a few things from my perspective as a fan.

First, the Orleans Arena might as well be renamed the ZagLeans Arena or something similar. It was filled with Gonzaga fans. Every game the Zags played in was packed, while every game they did not play in had a lot of empty seats. There would have been even more empty seats if Zag fans didn't attend those games as well.

BYU has a good following too, but nowhere near the level as Gonzaga. One thing I enjoyed was the back and forth that goes on between opposing fans during the games. I had never attended a WCC Tourney before so it took me by surprise and I enjoyed it. Especially since we won!

Domas Sabonis After Winning Championship

1st up: USF. I was certainly concerned about the Zags going into the tourney. They had not been playing very stellar ball this past month. Adding to my anxiety was a red hot BYU team, winners of 8 of the last 9 including the Zags on senior night in the Kennel. So, to hold the naysayers at bay and show the nation they are indeed a top 7 team what do they do? They struggle right out of the gate, get behind by 7 to the Dons and are behind at halftime. Karnowski held the Zags together in that first half as he came up big, time and time again. Kyle Wiltjer joined the party in the second half and Gonzaga forged ahead to win. The heavily pro Zag crowd all held their breath when Wiltjer went down. He was getting hammered the whole game by USF. Anyone besides me think that was part of Rex Walters plan? Kyle definitely showed some toughness as he was bloodied, bashed around, heavily iced after the game, yet still came through big time. Coach Few seemed upbeat after the win saying "We were able to get through that first half then we got the pace going in the 2nd half, we stepped up and started shooting the ball, making shots we're capable of, and all the while we played pretty darn good defense." (Zags 81 USF 72)

Team Banners Outside Locker Rooms

In the semi-final game vs Pepperdine, once again the Zags were sluggish and they only led by 2 at the half. In the second half I sensed that everyone settled down, including nervous fans, as they thoroughly enjoyed a proper dismantling. Defensive intensity was key and the Zags scored 10 points off fast breaks. Gonzaga blew the doors off as they ran out to a 20 point lead and coasted from there. This game was a monster one for USC transfer Byron Wesley who scored a team high 25 points. He said "that was easily the most fun we've had in a game all year, just the energy we had, and the crowd was great. From the players in the game to the players on the bench, everyone was engaged and that's what we want." It was also nice to see Wiltjer able to go at it 100%, showing no ill effects from the pounding he took on Friday. He had a great game barely missing a double double getting 17 points and 9 boards. (Zags 79 Pepperdine 61)

Angel Nunez has his Game Face on!

Dustin Triano & Alberts Thumbs Up!

Gonzaga vs BYU for the title. It's odd what a difference a few days make. In their last game BYU led the Zags the entire way. In this WCC Championship game they pretty much never led. Back and forth it went. Every time Gonzaga would start to pull away, say 7 points or so, BYU would come storming back. Try as they might, they would never catch these Zags. It was an offensive onslaught. The crowd was going crazy, it was LOUD, and a lot of fun. Kyle Wiltjer, who was named WCC MVP, finally got his double double garnering 18 pts along with 10 boards. After the game he said "we want to play fast and can score with the best of them. We wanted to push the pace and that's what we did." Ninety one points is a whole lot of points. I heard a fan jokingly say "first one to 100 wins." At times it felt like he might be right. It was an offensive masterpiece with 6 Zags scoring in dbl figures. But, the Zags D played well too, clamping down in the second half and holding the Cougars to just 33 points.

So, the Zags rebounded from their shocking loss at home on senior night and destroyed a red hot BYU team to win another WCC Tournament Title. It looks like they've turned the corner from a month of what looked like lackluster play. It's definitely a good feeling heading into the Big Dance. GO ZAGS!~

Conner Griffin Working that Pen

Odds and Ends-- I talked to Domas Sabonis for a minute and he said his hand feels great and it is now 100% healed. That's nice to know because it had been hampering his ability to get rebounds and hold onto the ball. Of course he's been playing so well people might not have noticed. He is a special player. I cannot remember a Zag "Big" being this polished in his true freshman season. He is also one of the most polite, respectful, approachable, and friendly players you will ever meet. Basically, he's just like all of these Zag players. Good on the coaching staff for recruiting these types of kids into the program. Josh Perkins is still not cleared to participate in practice or play. It looks good for a medical red-shirt. Coach Few- He is letting his emotions show (I mean this in a good way). His voice cracked when he talked about the players and his love for them is evident. Also, people have complained about this in the past so I wanted to address it. He is improving in "on the fly" game management and decision making. Changing defensive schemes, running full court press, player substitutions, and using time-outs to his advantage, and coaching the players on the bench among other things. Television tends to hide these things. You get to see so much more when you are actually at the games. He is doing an exemplary job. Also, once again I had a chance to say a quick hello to our new Director of Basketball Operations, John Jakus, who came over from Baylor. Although it is sad to see Dr. Jerry Krause leaving the fold after so many years, we are in great hands with John going forward. I have a picture I'll throw up below but my "borrowed" camera didn't do very well, sorry about that. In case you're curious, John can usually be seen sitting next to Przemek Karnowski's right during games. Kyle Dranginis- he is becoming more confident. He will be a 5th year senior next year and I expect big things. He can do all things well, thus his nickname "swiss army knife" but let's not forget, he can flat out score. He  "draino'ed" 55 points in the Idaho State title game. With the graduation of Byron Wesley, he will most likely be counted on next year to score more.

John Jakus- New Director of Basketball Ops in Blue Suit

All-Tourney Team

Final Bracket

Zags Heading to Hotel- I know where but can't say- It's a secret

* Special thanks to KIXI Seattle for flying me down to Las Vegas for the Tournament and thanks to the WCC for approving Media Credentials. Congrats to Gonzaga!!~

March 4, 2015

Much at Stake in WCC Tourney- ESPN Video w/ Jay Bilas

March 3, 2015

The BYU loss hurt


A loss like the one to BYU was painful. Then kind of pain I am talking about is the type where you simply need to check-out of life for at least a week, at least I do. Pangos, Bell, and Wesley, going out as losers on senior night. I would have bet the farm against that happening, but it did.

Even Brian Horace, from, told me he was shocked. How could these #3 ranked Zags possibly lose on senior night at the Kennel where no one beats them?! It'd been a decade and a half since Gonzaga has lost on a senior night. We had a #1 seed in our pocket to the big dance, the longest home winning streak in the nation (41), plus a regular season winning streak of 22 games. All of it ripped away. Certainly, we've been getting everyone's best shot, but so what. So have all the top ranked teams. It's no excuse and I grow tired of hearing it. If this team is as good as it is thought to be, it is time to win. Period.

But there were signs this was coming. Instead of peeking at the right time, which should be now, Gonzaga has been regressing. Having to come back from 17 down at St. Mary's, being behind at halftime(s), giving up 78 points to Pacific, and a come from behind win vs Pepperdine. Additionally, the offense had been sputtering, unable to break into the 60s vs San Diego and Pepperdine. This is not the way to be playing so close to the WCC Tourney and beyond.

Hopefully, this loss to BYU will be the wake up call that rallies the team. Possessing one of the top offenses in the nation as well as a top 15ish defense, experience, depth, bigs, wings, and deep shooters, these Zags should be set up like no other in recent memory to do some damage in the NCAA Tourney.

But first things first. There is this WCC Tournament in Las Vegas. Wing Byron Wesley said "I think we needed that (loss to BYU) to humble everybody and to make sure everyone is locked in for the WCC Tournament." A dominating run in the WCC Tourney that nets a Championship would certainly help us in the seedings for the NCAA Tourney.

Speaking of which, and I know these things are fluid this time of year, but as a result of the loss to BYU, not only did the Zags lose out on a probable #1 seed,  Mr. Brackets Joe Lunardi has us currently penciled into the Midwest region as a #2 seed in Kentucky's bracket. This is why it is so important at this time of year to win and win big.

Winning the WCC Conference, a 29-2 record, and a lofty #7 ranking in the polls is nothing to be ashamed of, but I have the feeling there is so much more left to accomplish. It's time to get back to work and show the world these Zags are for real.