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This Gonzaga team has one more weapon

A GRIP ON SPORTS

Over the years Gonzaga has had some outstanding basketball teams. We all know that, right? The 1999 Elite Eight group. The 29-4 team in 2002. The team that finished 28-3 two years later. Another 29-4 group in 2006. The team that was top-ranked and a No. 1 seed a couple years ago. But I'm not sure any of them could have survived the offensive stretch Gonzaga had last night in San Diego. That the Zags were able to go seven second-half minutes without a point is a testament to an area in which this team is getting better and better. Read on.

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• When you think of Gonzaga basketball, you automatically think of fastbreaks and efficient offense. It has been that way the entire century. This GU team can do that as well. But it can do more. It can lock you down. It's a longer, taller, quicker group that wants to excel on the defensive end. And it does. There is Gary Bell, who has spent four years as Gonzaga's go-to guy when defending a quick guard. There is Przemek Karnowski, who has spent the past three years patrolling the paint. And then, this season, there is Byron Wesley, the senior transfer from USC that gives Gonzaga something different on the defensive end. The 6-foot-5 wing is quick enough to shadow some of the WCC's water-bug type guards but also long and strong enough to match up with the big guards who have given Gonzaga troubles in the past. Last night, in the 60-48 win at San Diego, you saw examples of all the Zags' defensive abilities. Bell did what he does best, spending most of the night denying Johnny Dee, the Toreros' main offensive weapon, the ball. Not just putting a hand in his face when he shot, but making it nearly impossible for Dee to even get a touch. Dee tried everything, using off-ball screens, on-ball screens, fade screens, curls, just about everything to get looks and touches. But there was Bell, relentless, in Dee's face on every catch, on every move. Dee, the all-time leading 3-point shooter in San Diego history, had a late surge, but still was 5 of 16 from the floor. Meanwhile, Karnowski, Kyle (fixed from earlier) Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis made every finish at the hoop a contested one – the Toreros had just six points in the paint – turning San Diego's offense one-dimensional. That left Wesley (pictured) to either harass Duda Sandaze, a 6-5 shooter who was USD's second-leading scorer last season, when he was on the floor or to roam and give help when he wasn't. Even Kevin Pangos got in the mix, working hard to deny penetration to USD point guard Christopher Anderson, who did not score in 36 minutes and had six turnovers. The formula worked as the Toreros shot just 26.8 percent from the floor – 23 percent in the first half – and posted a season-low point total. If there is any aspect of this Zag team that can help it break through the first-weekend-of-the-NCAAs barrier, it is its defense. In the past, a bad offensive night usually meant ruin for GU. This year it is just a wakeup call for the defense. A call it has the tools to answer.

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• WSU: There are good days and there are bad days when you are the beat writer in Pullman. Yesterday was one of those bad days. Reports abounded Daquawn Brown had been dismissed from the football team. Which means Jacob Thorpe has to run them down. Take it from me, that's tiring. The result is this blog post and story. ... But it got worse. There is this report out of Florida on the hit and run death of former WSU lineman Chris Dyko. Jacob also put together a blog post on that event. All in all, a bad day. ... Jacob did do one typical chore yesterday, looking back at the Cougars win over UC Davis. ... Oregon got lucky at home last night, holding off mighty UC Irvine 69-67 in overtime. And I am joking about the mighty part. ... Hey, we found another Pac-12 preview. And this one is from a friend.

• Gonzaga: Jim Meehan had the toughest duty yesterday, spending the day in San Diego, where it was approximately 124 degrees warmer than here – taking wind chill into the equation. Somehow he was able to pull himself into the gym and write a game story and blog post on GU's victory. He'll be back today with more. ... Tom Clouse walked through the biting wind yesterday afternoon in Spokane to cover the women's 67-49 rout of USD in the Kennel. He has this game story while Colin Mulvany has these photographs. ... Back to the men, BYU earned a first-week split by outscoring Portland 97-88. ... St. Mary's is 2-0 after thumping USF 69-56 in a game that had a nasty ending. ... Santa Clara evened its WCC record with a 57-40 win at Pacific.

• Chiefs: No Spokane news but Everett is about to embark on the toughest road stretch of the franchise's history, or something like that.

• Preps: Basketball returned Monday night with a full slate of tournaments and non-league games. We have a girls and a boys roundup on all the games.

• Seahawks: Success in the NFL is always followed by those trying to get a piece of it. It's true with coaching staffs as well as rosters. The Hawks are going through it again, with a trio of teams wanting to interview defensive coordinator Dan Quinn for a head coaching vacancy. Funny thing. Pete Carroll is fine with it. Encourages it, actually. Heck, he may even be making cold calls on Quinn's behalf, who knows. ... Why Quinn (pictured)? Maybe its because of these statistics. ... We do know how many snaps everyone took against St. Louis. ... A guy who should get a lot of snaps come the playoffs is Jermaine Kearse, who seems to be healthy. ... Jon Ryan had a big weekend. ... The Hawks pull in pretty nice TV ratings in Seattle.

• Sounders: Seattle, looking to shore up its back line, signed a veteran EPL defender yesterday.

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• That is our penultimate report of 2014. And, yes, I will take any chance I can get to use the word penultimate in a sentence. Until later ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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