January 19, 2014 in Sports

Tenacious defense a Gonzaga requirement

Associated Press photo

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski and the Zags put the clamps down on Brendan Lane and the entire Pepperdine offense.
(Full-size photo)

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Vince Grippi has an opinion about everything local, especially sports. Every Sunday we provide samples of his daily riffs. Read him daily at spokesman.com/sportslink.

Friday: Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse was once a state-of-the-art basketball facility with a futuristic rubber/composite floor and a bunch of rabid fans. Now it’s a sad old building with a few new amenities (a large video scoreboard and a bunch of new paint) and a group of students who tried hard to take Gonzaga out of its game. They couldn’t.

There have been many more talented Gonzaga teams in Mark Few’s tenure, but this Zag group has the opportunity to be as tough as any in his, or Dan Monson’s or even Dan Fitzgerald’s careers.

Pepperdine isn’t a great college basketball team but it competes. And for 10 minutes, on their home court, the Waves did more than that. They battled and fought and threw themselves around enough to lead 18-16 when Malcolm Brooks drove and scored. At which point everything changed.

There have been times over the years when Gonzaga would just put its offense in overdrive, push the pedal down and run away from teams, using its skilled athletes to outscore the opposition. This team isn’t going to do that as often, in part because the WCC has improved from the bottom up and in part because there just aren’t as many Bulldogs with those type of skills.

But this team can put together runs in a different manner. Often in the past, the GU offense seemed to key the defense. Shots fell, the energy level went up and the defense stiffened. It’s tougher to do it the other way, to pick up the intensity on defense, force the other team’s offense into neutral and build a lead possession by possession. But that’s what this group can do.

After Pepperdine took that 18-16 lead, the Zags became true bulldogs on defense. They doubled ball screens. They rotated into help quicker. They attacked the post, helped the helper, got hands on balls. Over the next seven Wave possessions there were four turnovers and three missed shots, all taken under duress. The amped-up defense keyed GU’s break, leading to eight quick points.

Finally, Stacy Davis muscled inside for a Pepperdine bucket. It was just a blip. Eight more empty possessions ensued for the Waves, and 15 consecutive Zag points. The 23-2 run shut up the students and ensured the Bulldogs’ fifth WCC win of the season, though their first on the road.

GU didn’t venture out of the Kennel until last Thursday when Portland rode its crowd and effort to 82-73 win over the Zags. But this group are quick learners. They heeded the lessons. They have to win 50-50 balls. They have to give maximum effort on both ends. There is no star, no first-round draft pick who is going to bail them out. It’s going to be a grind. A hard, pothole-filled road that needs to be navigated if they want to win another WCC title.

Thursday: It’s no secret Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone’s tenure is tenuous right now.

After five years, there is a growing disconnect between the fan base and the veteran coach. You can witness it every home game by just counting the empty seats. And you can read it in the fan website’s comments section on a daily basis.

So when the Cougars get blown out – maybe beaten down is a better description – as they were last night at Stanford, it doesn’t help Bone’s cause.

It’s quite possible there’s nothing Bone’s team can do right now to help him stay.

Monday: There you go. You got what you wanted. Now deal with it.

Me, I would have been fine with Green Bay or Carolina coming to Seattle. But no, you folks, you “real” fans,  wanted another showdown.

The  last in a trilogy if you will. Well, remember the third Godfather movie? How did that work out? Didn’t have the ending you wanted, did it?

Maybe the game that would have been billed as “Seahawks vs. 49ers, this one is for all the marbles” back in the 1970s, won’t have the ending you want either.

Sorry, but this isn’t the San Francisco team that visited Seattle in September and lost 29-3. That team didn’t have Michael Crabtree. Don’t fool yourself, the dynamic wide receiver means just about everything for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense. With Crabtree in the lineup, it makes life easier for Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. With Crabtree in the lineup, the 49er running game has that much more space to operate. With Crabtree in the lineup, San Francisco’s offense is just better, period.

With the offense doing a better job of staying on the field, sustaining drives, the 49ers defense finds itself better rested – Carolina ran 54 plays Sunday, the fewest of any team not from San Diego over the weekend – which is never a bad thing.

It isn’t as if San Francisco’s defense has not been pulling its weight anyway. It finished fifth in the NFL in total yards (seventh in passing and fourth in rushing) which, if not Seahawk good, is still darn respectable. And it’s not like the Hawks have been lighting the world on fire offensively recently.

So you have what you wanted, a knock-down, drag-around-on-the-turf, blood-and-bad-blood-everywhere battle between the NFL’s two best West Coast teams, with the winner facing one of those offense-is-everything AFC pansies in the Super Bowl.

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