March 22, 2013 in Sports

Blanchette: Amid the carnage, Zags still standing

By The Spokesman-Review
 

SALT LAKE CITY – Read somewhere that of the 8.15 million entries in ESPN’s Bracket Challenge, only two had all 16 of Thursday’s games wrong.

Damn. Usually I remember to change a couple of picks when I submit multiple brackets.

But you probably have your own problems in the pool, right?

And most of them have to do with what’s going on out here in the Roadkill Region.

What? You hadn’t noticed?

Oh, of course. You still have your head cradled in your hands, distraught over Gonzaga’s pratfall against Southern, wondering how you were going to live with the stigma and shame of being the chewing gum on the Florsheim sole of history.

Well, you should have looked up.

The Bulldogs won. Really. Zagged the Jags with a couple of 3-pointers, showered in another trickle of America’s disregard for their worthiness to wear the number 1 and are now back, fresh, for another day.

Which is more than can be said for New Mexico. Or Kansas State. Or Wisconsin.

“What’s going on?” said Gonzaga forward Sam Dower. “Must be the NCAA tournament.”

The Zags returned to EnergySolutions Arena on Friday with the suitable balance of situational humility and defiance, suggesting that whatever contribution they made to Spokane’s civic freakout the day before would not be a problem today against Wichita State and that everybody should calm down. What they can’t guarantee, of course, is that the Shockers will go any easier, or at all.

Must be the NCAA tournament.

The only guarantee is that it’s likely to be bloody knuckles, or brass ones – the Shockers preferring the style of play, if you can call it that, popular in the Paulie Walnuts Conference. There’s defense and there’s rebounding and there’s something else, but they may not remember what it is.

“Put it this way,” said Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, “I don’t think they get hung up if they make shots or not. I don’t think they’re ‘offensively sensitive.’”

Everyone wanted to take the top seeds’ temperature over a potential hangover from the Southern scare, and none of the Zags were having much of it, as you might expect. Dower even wrinkled his face into a small scowl when the phrase “dodged a bullet” was invoked.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” he said. “We were excited to win, and we did what we had to do in the last four minutes to do it. We just have to make sure we don’t put ourselves in that position again.”

And if the Southern game wasn’t lesson enough, and the Zags have seen it repeated again and again on TV in the 48 hours since.

They were just coming out of a film session with their coaches Thursday night when Harvard was putting the final touches on the brightest idea to come from that campus since Facebook, an upset of third-seeded – and 10th-ranked – New Mexico.

For all the heat the nouveau Zags get for not having a Final Four in their resume, they could give the Lobos Sweet 16 envy. The last time New Mexico made the regional semifinals was 1974 – and it took just a single win, because only 25 teams made the tournament.

Such a dagger was the loss to Harvard that it killed a whole career. Dennis Latta, a former newspaper sports writer now working for a fan website, swore off Lobos basketball for good in a bitter farewell missive.

Strange that more coaches haven’t tried that strategy before.

In any event, that upset got “amens” on Friday in the West Region from Ole Miss and La Salle. That’s the West’s 3, 4 and 5 seeds down in flames, along with a bunch of brackets – this a year after the region’s 2, 5, 6 and 7 teams fell in their openers.

And the No. 1 seed is supposed to feel bad for surviving.

“How about the years we played great in the first game and everybody had us anointed to go to the Final Four – and we’d be done on Saturday?” Lloyd said. “Every game has its own life and its own business to be taken care of.”

Here’s some new business for the Zags: None of the current players have been to a Sweet 16. Mike Hart was a redshirt on the last Gonzaga team to reach that round.

With what’s already happened in the Roadkill Region, this would seem to be a sensational opportunity for the Zags. But why would anyone suggest now that a seed line even matters?

“It’s not good to be knocking on the devil’s door,” Dower smiled. “Pretty soon, he’s going to answer.”

Wonder what his bracket looks like?


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