It has not been a game for the faint of heart, this Wazzu-Zag U business, nor much for freshmen.
Kevin Pangos pretty much changed that Monday night.
In fact, he and Gary Bell Jr. have changed the entire equation at Gonzaga this season, even though it’s just two games old.
It’s hard to imagine that the bleary-eyed after-midnight audience in the East watching the 24-Hour Tip-Off Marathon on the Worldwide Leader for Jacking Around Game Times However It Pleases knew quite what hit it. Quite possibly they imagined it was college basketball that was locked out, and the network had thrown up some old Jimmer footage to fill air.
OK, no need to go that crazy yet.
Still, even the Bulldogs were so agog at the display of marksmanship and moxie staged by Pangos, their prized Canadian import, that they pretty much shut it down about five minutes early and had to sweat out an 89-81 victory over Washington State at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
It had no business being that close, really. But then, it probably had no business being a 21-point laugher with 12 minutes to play, either.
Yet this is what happens when starts stroking like, well, like no freshman ever really has around here.
Thirty-three points. No Zag in memory fresh out of high school – not a Morrison, not a McPhee, not a Stepp – has so exploded onto the scene this way. Matt Santangelo had a 28-point night as a freshman, but it was late in the season – not a national TV almost-debut.
Nine 3-pointers. That’s a school record, tying a couple of similar efforts by Dan Dickau, so now you’re moving into Gonzaga legend territory.
“We knew about him,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. “We knew he was a very good shooter. He was a concern of ours when the game started.”
And he never stopped being a concern.
Wazzu threw the same zone at the Zags that so flummoxed them in the wipeout a year ago in Pullman. Gonzaga didn’t have the weaponry to deal with it then, and on that night they didn’t have the sand or siccum, either.
This was something completely different.
Ten of Gonzaga’s first 15 shots were 3-pointers. Four of them by Pangos went in. Eventually joining in the chorus were Bell and sophomore Mathis Moenninghoff, and near the end of the first half the Zags had opened up a 15-point lead – though in an omen of what was to come, they allowed the Cougars to hack it down to nine by intermission.
“We had an idea they were going to play zone,” said Pangos, “and the coaches told me to look for my shot and let it fly.”
Was he surprised that the Cougars kept coming back to that zone?
“I didn’t really even pay attention,” he admitted.
But other people have been paying attention, certainly.
“For you guys it might be surprising,” said Gonzaga forward Elias Harris, who along with center Robert Sacre came through with double-doubles that helped hold off the Cougars down the stretch, “but I see it every day.
“Kevin, Gary, Moenninghoff – our perimeter in general, they can really shoot, and it’s so helpful. It makes Rob’s life, Sam Dower’s life, (Ryan) Spangler’s life and my life so much easier. It’s incredible to have those cats on the team.
“Last year, that was lacking in our team, at least consistently. It’s not lacking anymore.”
And yet it wasn’t just the shooting. Pangos had six assists and only a couple of turnover hiccups. Bell, who looked rushed and frustrated in GU’s exhibition and opener, was far more assured against the Cougar traps.
Lost in the hoohah over Pangos’ big splash was WSU’s stirring comeback – fueled, too, by some standout 3-pointe shooting by newcomers DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd, and the Cougars’ general unwillingness to turn into road kill, an approach the Zags could have used last year.
“You have that in the back of your mind,” Harris admitted of the spanking Wazzu administered a year ago, “and you think about it. I was watching the game from last year to get my emotions up and it was the perfect thing.
“But in the end we’re here to play and try to beat a good team. They have some talent and they’re going to win a bunch of games.”
Though they might want to rethink – or at least ratchet up – that zone.
“I’m not sure if any more teams are going to come out and shoot 99 percent from the 3,” said forward Brock Motum.
The Zags might have been 99 percenters this night, thanks to a freshman who – at least in the context of today’s 24-hour TV marathon – is in the upper 1 percent.