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The Zags have adapted and are now one of the fittest survivors

Gonzaga’s Eric McClellan is fouled and makes the shot against Utah in the second half at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Saturday, March 19, 2016. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Eric McClellan is fouled and makes the shot against Utah in the second half at the Pepsi Center in Denver on Saturday, March 19, 2016. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Adaptability is the key to survival. In the wild – and in the wild that is the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga showed its adaptability this weekend and, because of it, is still playing. Read on.

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• The opening round featured sixth-seeded Seton Hall and its hot as Hades guards. The Zags shut down the Pirates. Saturday’s second round featured third-seeded Utah and 7-footer Jakob Poeltl. The Zags shut down Poeltl – five points, four rebounds, no impactful plays – and the Utes. Adapt and survive. That's the mantra right now. But the biggest evolution occurred not this weekend, but earlier this year. Midway through the WCC season the Zags were not a lot of fun to watch, not to any of us and not to the coaching staff. They weren’t playing the way anyone wanted, including themselves. Now they are. They adapted. They began to execute better on the offensive end – you can translate that to sharing the ball better if you want – and they dedicated themselves on the defensive end. Because, make no mistake about it, this iteration of Gonzaga is a defensive force. Funny, huh? The Zags have made their reputation under Mark Few as one of the most brutally efficient offensive powerhouses in the country. Year in, year out they would shoot down opponents with high caliber guards and explosive big men. That’s still true to some degree, as Saturday’s 82 points shows. But it was the other end that keyed the first-weekend success, especially last night. The Bulldogs had a plan to contain Poeltl and it wasn’t just to leave Domantas Sabonis on an island. They used their size, ie., Kyle Wiltjer, to double the Utah post and destroy his ability to get to the rim. Wiltjer attacked whenever the ball was entered into the Utes’ best player and stayed until he got rid of it. The other three defenders were consistently in the right spot and, when the ball left the post, rotated quickly. Big deal, you say? Well, Gonzaga wasn’t the first team to double Poeltl. Just about everyone has. And Utah has taken advantage to get open looks, usually on the weakside, all season. It didn’t happen Saturday night in Denver. The ball would go into the post, out again and there would be nothing available, including time on the shot clock. The Utes would have to rush a shot, Sabonis would rebound – he had his usual double digits – and the Zags were off and running. It was fun to watch. Not only did Gonzaga defend well, it defended in such a manner as to take away the Utes’ will. If you ever have a chance to watch one of the more-than occasional Pac-12 Networks replays of the Cougars’ 2008 NCAA second-round win vs. Notre Dame – played on the same court in Denver – you would see the same thing. One team imposing its will on the other. The difference between the two winning teams in those games, however, is Gonzaga has more offensive weapons – and won’t have to face one of the best teams in the tournament in the Sweet Sixteen. On GU’s docket in Chicago next weekend is either Syracuse or Middle Tennessee, both, like the Zags, double-digit seeds. Gonzaga’s opponent will be decided today. But what has already been decided is this: Gonzaga went from being in disarray earlier this year into gelling now. The Zags are a force. This may not be the best team Few has ever had, but it may be his best coaching job. He’s adapted, his team’s adapted and now both are headed to Chicago. The evolution of Gonzaga basketball, 2016 version, isn’t done yet.

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• Gonzaga: This time of year there is a lot of coverage of the Zags, from a lot of different sources. But not to sound like a homer or anything, the best is right here on this newspaper’s website. Jim Meehan’s game story, John Blanchette’s column and Dan Pelle’s photographs capture all the nuances of Gonzaga’s 82-59 rout better than anyone. ... To the winners goes the publicity, or something like that. There are stories on the game from sources as varied as the Seattle Times to the New York Post and just about every national entity in-between. Yes, I said the New York Post. ... In Utah, the Utes’ poor showing is something to be analyzed and inspected. ... It was not a good day for Salt Lake-area teams, as BYU’s women lost in the NCAA first round. ... The GU women’s rowing team began its season with a great day.

• WSU: The athletic department has a multi-million dollar deficit. That’s nothing new according to John Webster. ... The Cougar track team posted a couple individual wins. ... It was not a good week for California’s basketball program. What’s next?

• Idaho: The second round games at the Arena are on tap for this afternoon, with Tom Clouse previewing Oregon’s matchup with Saint Joseph’s and Jacob Thorpe doing the same for Maryland and Hawaii. ... The Ducks are in rarified air, as a No. 1 seed, but they seem to be handling it well.

• Whitworth: The softball team did something yesterday no one in the nation did last season.

• Chiefs: The WHL playoffs are set and the Chiefs will be there, despite losing 5-3 last night in Tri-Cities. ... Portland and Everett will meet in the first round.

• Seahawks: The NFL holds its offseason meetings this week and there are a few things to dicuss.

• Mariners: Yes, two losses in two split-squad games is nothing to celebrate. But two outstanding pitching performances by Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker are. ... Stefen Romero was stroking the ball. Now he’s a bit dinged up. He hopes to return quickly.

• Sounders: There is only one team in the MLS without a point and you probably can figure out who that is. Last night’s home 2-1 loss to Vancouver was just another in a line of weird losses for Seattle this season. ... The L.A. Galaxy suffered some injuries but still got past San Jose in Los Angeles. ... Portland and Real Salt Lake played to a draw.

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• For a while earlier this week, the weather experts were predicting a high in the 60s. That changed yesterday. Now 61 is back on the docket. Spring has sprung. That makes me smile. Maybe I’ll even wear shorts. You should wear sunglasses. I don’t want the reflection off my legs to blind you. Until later ...



Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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