MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Sitting together in the stands at FedExForum for the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 were a Zag and a Tar Heel who met … at a Cougar game?
Only in sports, sports fans.
John Egger is a 1971 Gonzaga graduate and long-time basketball season ticket holder from Colville who had to carve out some space in a phalanx of Bulldog fans Friday night for an interloper from North Carolina – his wife, Dianne, a ’74 Tar Heel who came decked out in Carolina blue and holding somewhat mixed feelings.
“I really have captured an affinity for Gonzaga – how could you not?” she said. “You’ve got to love them – except tonight.”
Egger is OK with the Tar Heels, too – especially since he’s been able to tweak his wife and Carolina friends about Gonzaga’s 82-74 victory in the teams’ first meeting in Madison Square Garden back in November 2006.
“I’ve actually kind of been dreading this,” Egger laughed, referring to Friday’s rematch. “Not that Gonzaga can’t win, but it’s been nice being able ask people, ‘How did that game turn out?’ the last couple of years.”
The Eggers have lived in Hillsborough in Carolina’s Triangle for the past six years, but met in a decidedly improbable way – and place.
Egger was combining a morning of pheasant hunting on the Palouse with an afternoon Washington State football game in Pullman several years ago. Afterward, a friend cajoled him into a drink at The Coug (“Couldn’t we go someplace where there might actually be women our age?” Egger wondered). Dianne Cates, then a technical director for ABC Sports in town to work the football game, asked if she could join them.
One thing, as they say, led to another and they were eventually married in October 2002. Egger figured they’d make their home in Colville, but didn’t take into account one thing.
“She’s 10th generation Carolinian,” he said. “I wasn’t winning that one.”
So they attend the odd Carolina or Duke game, and Egger still keeps his season tickets behind the visitors’ bench at McCarthey Athletic Center – getting back for one or two games a year (they’ve even made it back to The Coug to relive a happy memory). And if the Zags aren’t involved, he has no trouble pulling for her Tar Heels.
“Win or lose,” said Egger, “I’m staying for the game Sunday.”
Swan song for seniors
Gonzaga’s five seniors – Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, Ira Brown and Andrew Sorenson – didn’t get the send-off they were looking for as North Carolina rolled to a 98-77 victory.
“It was tough,” said Pargo, who led Gonzaga with 16 points. “I wish we could have gone out in a battle instead of going out the way we did, but things happen.”
Downs had 12 points, four rebounds and three of GU’s six steals.
“As soon as that buzzer sounded it was kind of a crappy, dull feeling,” he said. “No more basketball in the Kennel, I’m going to miss it big-time. I’m going to miss Spokane, my fans, my teammates, coaches, everybody. It’s something that’s the best experience of a kid’s career.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Ty Lawson’s sprained toe began feeling better after a couple of pool workouts on Thursday night and Friday morning. Lawson scored 19 points and handed out nine assists.
“That was really helpful to him,” Williams said of the pool workouts. “We took him out at one point because he turned his other ankle a little bit. We were able to get by with him only playing 27 minutes.”
Lawson, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, had missed three games before returning to score 23 points in last Saturday’s win over LSU.
“In some instances, I think the toe injury might have helped him,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He’s playing at a great pace right now. He’s not forcing anything. He got in the lane a couple times where he was closely guarded and we shut down option one, option two, option three, and he was under control and found option four wide open on the back side of our defense.”
Best of the bunch
North Carolina wasn’t the overall top seed in the NCAA tournament, but the Tar Heels showed why they might be the favorite to claim their second title in five years.
“Lawson was phenomenal, (Wayne) Ellington, (Tyler) Hansbrough was a beast like he always is,” Downs said. “We couldn’t get stops – that’s what it came down to.”
Sophomore forward Austin Daye said North Carolina was probably the most talented team GU faced this season. The Bulldogs lost to No. 1-seeded Connecticut and second-seeded Memphis during the regular season.
“Arizona had three NBA players guaranteed, but beside them, I don’t think we’ve played a team that is so surrounded with great players,” Daye said. “It’s not only their starting five, but their bench is very good. It was tough to slow them down when they’re making runs like that.”