Before the Battle in Seattle, the Blizzard in Spokane.
Fans – at least 4,500 of the usual sellout 6,000 – dug themselves out of the drifts to get to McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday night to see more of what they’d been experiencing outside.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs buried Texas Southern under a front of 3-pointers – nine in the first half – in an 84-42 romp, a warm-up for Saturday’s college basketball showdown with No. 2 Connecticut at KeyArena in Seattle.
Throw in a 21-point, seven-rebound effort by Josh Heytvelt and the eighth-ranked Zags (8-1) seemed more than primed – despite the hangover of their first loss, a month on the road, a week of finals and 25 inches of snow outside.
“And maybe the best effort of the night was the people who showed up,” coach Mark Few said. “Just an incredible crowd for the circumstances that are out there in the city right now.”
So the Zags gave them a show.
“It’s pretty tough out there right now,” guard Jeremy Pargo said. “I had a car I couldn’t get out, couldn’t move it – couldn’t even see it. But it was a great atmosphere and these guys love it, and love that those people love us.”
Although the Tigers – who are 0-10 and won’t play a home game until Dec. 27 – gave Texas fits in an 88-72 loss on Tuesday, the mystery evaporated early in this one.
Matt Bouldin found Micah Downs for a 3-pointer and an alley-oop layup to bookend a 9-0 run in the first 3 minutes, and the two combined for three 3s – punctuated by a ferocious Ira Brown dunk – in a burst that made it 20-4 just 3 minutes later.
Gonzaga made eight of its first 11 shots, but Few didn’t even reference that statistic – happier still that two of the areas that broke down in Sunday’s loss at Arizona seemed restored.
“They got it going with our defense and rebounding,” he said. “We got those two things back squared away pretty good, and then moved the ball well enough that we got each other good shots.”
The Tigers – who shot 57 percent in the loss to Texas – made just 2 of 9 attempts in those first 6 minutes and turned it over three times, and found themselves buried deeper than Pargo’s car.
And after that, it was mostly target practice.
The Zags kept bombing away from 3 until Heytvelt reeled off 11 straight Gonzaga points interrupted only by Texas Southern’s last field goal of the first half – by Sollie Norwood with 7:15 left. The play of that stretch was a Pargo steal and pass to a streaking Heytvelt, who tomahawked a jam on the break that shook the snow from McCarthey’s roof.
“It was nice,” Heytvelt said. “That felt like the highest I’ve jumped in three years.”
By halftime, the Zags led 53-19, were shooting 65.6 percent and had made a ridiculous 9 of 11 3-pointers – while the Tigers had connected on just 29.6 percent.
“I thought our guys did a great job of dealing with all the distractions and all the excuses that could have been there,” Few said, “or even the aspect of coming off their first loss and maybe not playing with as much confidence and energy as they needed to.”
Maybe their urgency was a product of what they know is coming next – and their own aspirations.
“We outrebounded them by 22 and kept them under 35 percent and those are our standards – our Final Four standards,” Downs said. “When we defend and rebound like that it’s going to help us go deep – and we’re going to have to come out with the energy and passion we came out with tonight on Saturday.”
Downs’ 14 points led three more Zags in double figures behind Heytvelt as every Bulldog scored, including Brown with a career-high nine.
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