It’s time for that fine holiday basketball tradition, where teams travel to Thanksgiving tournaments hoping they aren’t the main course.
Idaho (3-0) is headed to Oregon’s tourney with Sacramento State (1-3) as the first-round opponent, Eastern Washington (1-3) is in the Colorado tournament facing Illinois-Chicago (1-2).
(It’s always a good sign when your first opponent isn’t the host school.)
Then there are those lucky teams that rotate into a warm-weather paradise.
By chance, Washington State (0-4) and Gonzaga (1-2), which meet at McCarthey in Spokane on Dec. 11, are both playing in the Rainbow Wahine Showdown, sponsored by Mariot, on Waikiki Beach.
The Cougars (0-4) are in deep, facing 14th-ranked North Carolina (4-0). Gonzaga (1-2) meets Mississippi (3-1). Illinois vs. Long Beach is the other game on WSU’s side, North Carolina Central vs. Hawaii on GU’s.
GU knocked off ranked UCLA in the 2007 tourney before getting whipped by UNC when the Tar Heels were in the top 5.
Back then the Bulldogs were going for the fun, sun and a recruiting boost. Not this time.
“We’re going there to hopefully win the tournament,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said Monday before the Zags took off for a side trip to North Dakota. “Playing a SEC team that was a postseason team last year … those things help put together a resume for spring. We hope to get into the (NCAA) tournament. We need some quality wins and as good of seed as possible to help you.
“Our kids will be disappointed if we don’t go win that tournament.”
But just like past years, when GU went to the Virgin Islands or Hawaii or Albuquerque, N.M., Graves is packing his shades.
“We’ll try to make it fun, we always do,” he said. “We don’t change. In big moments our kids are loose. They know it’s about business as well. … We’re going to enjoy it, it is Hawaii.”
With recent postseason success, the Bulldogs are well prepared for the tight tournament schedule, although Graves hasn’t looked too far ahead.
“Obviously Mississippi is pretty good,” he said. “They have some new kids, they’re athletic. … I like going into a tournament that is similar to (the NCAA) when, you don’t know who you’re going to play the next round. You have to do things on the fly, game plan quickly, get your kids prepared.”
One bonus, with a third Hawaiian point guard headed GU’s way next season, the Zags seem to have a nice following on the Island.
With a night to sleep on the pulsating loss to No. 3 Stanford before a soldout McCarthey crowd on Sunday, Graves came to a quick conclusion.
His back hurt – he fell asleep in his home office chair watching the game.
“I really thought we played hard,” he said. “We broke down a couple times defensively. We had a good game plan and executed it well. There were a couple times we let down guarding the post … Late, they did a nice job on the boards and I think we lost a little bit of focus.”
It’s not like the Zags were flawless in the 84-78 loss.
“If you would have told me we would have shot 35 percent at home and still had a chance to win it late, I would have said you’re crazy,” Graves said. “They’re the best rebounding team in the country and we rebounded even (49-49) with them. Goodness, we had 21 offensive rebounds. When do you think the last time Stanford gave up 21 offensive rebounds?
“What I got out of this is we can be a good basketball team.”