Sometimes there is a cosmic confluence of game and commentator. Usually that means Bill Walton is doing an ESPN college basketball game.
Cosmic might be Big Bill’s middle name.
But Saturday there was a convergence as well. And Walton wasn’t anywhere near the Staples Center for Gonzaga’s nationally televised non-conference matchup with Arizona.
Instead those watching were treated to the vocal stylings of one Jay Bilas, the former Duke All-American who seems to fancy himself a little Walton-lite.
That’s OK. Too many Walton-isms can cause earaches. As it was, Bilas’ pithy comments were perfect for Przemek Karnowski’s best game of the season.
Bilas, who teamed with Dave Flemming on the ESPN call, is 6-foot-8. He’s played at the highest level of college hoops at the toughest spot, post. He is the perfect guy to describe Karnowski’s game.
After all, neither play – or played – above the rim. And they get by – or got by – with classic post moves.
All of which the 7-foot, 305-pound Karnowski put on display in Gonzaga’s 69-62 victory.
Bilas is a fan. He consistently pointed out how tough Karnowski is to guard one-on-one in the paint – a fact Arizona’s Dusan Ristic learned first-hand.
The 7-foot, 245-pound center from Serbia, who looks rail-thin next to Karnowski, was the victim of many of Karnowski’s 18 points, most of which came after he leisurely attacked the rim.
Bilas was quick to point out Arizona coach Sean Miller was stuck, not because he didn’t have the players to match up height-wise with Karnowski, but no one had the same bulk.
And double-teaming the senior from Poland is not advisable, due to Karnowski’s excellent passing ability.
So Karnowski was able to get 13 shots. He made nine. And Bilas gushed.
But he never really gave Karnowski his due when the Zags’ offense was clicking on the perimeter.
“They move the ball from side to side and space the floor so well, this is a fun team to watch,” Bilas said as GU was building as much as an 16-point lead.
He didn’t point out the Zag ball movement was exceptional when Karnowski was on the floor and quite a bit less so when he sat. That’s just another aspect of Karnowski’s game to which the term old-school might be applied. He makes his teammates better.
No matter. Bilas not only can analyze the game, he can, like Walton, inject some fun as well.
Flemming is someone Gonzaga fans know intimately, as he has made multiple trips to Spokane during the course of the last few seasons. And he’s professional enough to know Bilas gets the laugh lines.
When Karnowski scored with his right hand one possession and then used his dominant left on the next, Flemming said, “he scores this time with his natural hand.”
Bilas’ response? “Well, both his hands are natural.” And, no, it wasn’t followed by a rim shot – in the comedian sense. Arizona, which shot 38.6 percent from the floor, took care of those – in the basketball sense.
Later Flemming mentioned Gonzaga’s two academic All-Americans from years past, Dan Dickau and Kelly Olynyk.
Bilas, channeling his inner Walton, wondered how Olynyk could be an academic All-American. He’s from Canada.
“We don’t go north of the border and become academic All-Canadians,” Bilas mused.
That being said, Bilas is also willing to make a serious comment, whether it be about Gonzaga’s offense or an official’s call.
“That’s not a foul,” was his comment of choice and he said it often down the stretch. And then he would explain why it wasn’t and, at times, explained why it was called.
And Gonzaga’s offense?
“When you can play through your big man,” he said, alluding to Karnowski, “that is really good.”
At 8-0 and wins over two of the West Coast’s usually toughest programs (San Diego State and Arizona), this year Gonzaga is really good.
And, less than a year removed from back surgery, Karnowski is as well.
Or, as Bilas put it late in the first half, “this is a fun team to watch.”
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