Those folks lucky enough to score tickets to a Gonzaga home basketball game have a cachet in Spokane. It’s a type of caste system, the haves and the have-nots.
But watching at home can have its rewards as well. As it did Wednesday night for Gonzaga’s 102-65 win over the obviously overmatched South Dakota Coyotes.
Santa Shem and his helper Rem brought every viewer a gift.
Coming out of a media timeout midway through the second half, KHQ brought us one of the best holiday gifts of the year.
Przemek Karnowski, wearing a hall-of-fame-worthy ugly sweater, and walk-on Rem Bakamus, sporting an honorable mention one, graced our living rooms with a taped “Santa Shem and his helper Rem” skit.
Yep, there was the 7-foot, 300-pound Karnowski, sitting in a chair next to a Christmas tree, with a Santa cap on his head and using his accented English to banter with Bakamus, over a present.
Then the fifth-year senior from Poland read “The Night Before Christmas” as Bakamus, a foot shorter and more than 100 pounds lighter, sat on the floor, entranced.
Classic. And perfectly timed.
After all, Wednesday night’s contest was the last Gonzaga game before Christmas.
Most years this game pits a lightly regarded foe with a Zag team playing on fumes, ready to get out of town for a quick visit home.
Part of that was true this time as well. The game was, predictably, a blowout, with 7-foot freshman Zach Collins coming off the bench to score a career-high 21, and the Zags nailing 12 3-pointers en route to what was a 42-point lead at one point.
And the McCarthey Athletic Center, with the students on break, was as quiet as the Foley Center Library much of the night.
It was so still the KHQ announcing team of Greg Heister, Dan Dickau and Richard Fox could be heard at times talking quietly with producer Chauncey Jones in the production truck.
And with 16 minutes and 58 seconds left to play, Heister highlighted the lack of noise by saying “I just heard someone behind me say ‘that’s a big human being,’ ” repeating what a fan had just said about Karnowski.
We all heard it, actually. The microphones picked it up. Just like at times they picked up what coach Mark Few was saying to the officials and his players.
That’s not the usual Gonzaga home atmosphere.
Yet the team played as if it was. No fumes here, until the game was in hand. Which may go a long way in explaining how it is 12-0, the best start in school history.
Dickau and Fox took turns explaining why this Bulldog group is doing so well, at times highlighting the depth, or praising the effort or talking about a defense that came in limiting teams to 36 percent shooting, South Dakota’s final mark as well.
“All five guys know where they are supposed to be,” Fox said as Gonzaga was limiting the Coyotes to 31 percent from the floor, and 0-for-9 from beyond the arc, in the first half. “They are all connected. The help-side defense is as good as I’ve seen here at GU.”
Dickau was happy to point out Karnowski’s ability to get his big body down the court quickly for transition baskets against smaller, supposedly faster, players. And the guards willingness to get him the ball.
“What that does is, as the game progresses, it makes bigs more willing to run the floor,” Dickau said, “knowing if I beat my man down the floor, the ball has a chance to get to me.”
Yet, even in a 37-point win, Fox wasn’t afraid to point out what has been Gonzaga’s most glaring deficiency: keeping opponents off the offensive boards.
“Part of the problem they have this year, is all four of their bigs look to block shots,” Fox said after one of the Coyotes’ eight offensive rebounds. “So too often you open yourself up on the weak side on the offensive glass.”
But such comments weren’t needed too often this night. Instead it was a night to celebrate giving (Gonzaga had 22 assists), bliss (a dozen Zags scored, four in double figures) and high flyers.
That last would be Rui Hachimura, whose throwdown dunk with 7:21 remaining added a jolt of needed caffeine in an otherwise mundane second half.
Hachimura, the 6-8 freshman from Japan, took a pass in transition about 30 feet from the rim on the left wing, took a trio of dribbles through the South Dakota defense, leaped and powered the ball through.
“That is a play that quite frankly you don’t see in the WCC,” Dickau admired. “That’s an NBA-type move.”
It was also the second best gift of the night. Santa Shem and his helper Rem saw to that.
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