Such a thing never would have occurred to the Kennel Clubbers who have hounded (and cussed) him for four years, but they should have considered an ovation – and it would have to be standing, since they never sit – for Omar Samhan.
And he, in return, for them.
But one conclusion that was inescapable during Gonzaga’s 80-61 dissection of Saint Mary’s in the only meaningful rivalry the West Coast Conference has at the moment was that the big fella and the loud crowd have over the last four years made each other relevant – and if anything, Samhan is owed more than he owes in the exchange.
This was his last trip to the joint, and they’ll miss him.
It gets stale rooting for your heroes without a villain.
And for all the buildup over what was at stake Thursday night, just what would this game have been without the glib Gael?
In the end, the Bulldogs asserted themselves defensively just as they had in outings immediately previous against Portland and Memphis. They choked off any other scoring options the Gaels might have thought they had other than their 6-foot-11 center, and Matt Bouldin keyed an offense with another player-of-the-year performance.
It was just another WCC romp over an overmatched opponent, even if it was one that was 21-3 coming into the building.
What made it different was Omar – who, to his dismay, will leave oh-for-Spokane.
But if nothing else, he moved the Kennelites to break out their poster board and magic markers, do a Google image search and exercise their imaginations – which, alas, don’t get nearly as much work as they should. The signage Thursday exceeded what will be displayed in all of Gonzaga’s other home games combined, many for the benefit of ESPN2’s cameras.
Never mind that Samhan’s profile has actually slimmed over the past four years. Funny is funny. Hey, did Henny Youngman really want you to take his wife, please?
If he is the focal point of the Kennel Club’s onslaught, he does not necessarily hold the same stature in the Gonzaga game plan – though Bulldogs coach Mark Few called him “a heck of a player” and he did torch the Zags for 31 points and 12 rebounds in the Gaels’ loss at home last month.
“I think their 3s hurt you worse than Samhan does – I don’t know if that’s right or not,” Few said. “They can hurt you at four different spots out there. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and battle him one on one in there and make sure those guys don’t get a lot of looks from 3.”
But the Zags did battle him harder this time. Rob Sacre made that true at both ends, and no roar was louder than when Will Foster blocked a Samhan shot with force enough to send him to the floor – where he was called for a travel.
“I break guys down the second half all the time because I’m in better shape and stronger,” Samhan said. “But when you don’t have the starting center out there and there’s still a 7-foot-5 kid, there’s no breaking them down. They do have depth, that’s for sure.”
And when the score got away from the Gaels, coach Randy Bennett pulled his center at the final timeout with 3:40 to play – and the kids that chanted “Spokane hates you” when Samhan came out to warm up could only ask, “Where is Omar?”
The last laugh. Or not.
“We’ll see them again,” Samhan said. “They’re going to be in that championship (game) – they’re the best team in this league. If we want to get to the tourney, the automatic bid, we’re definitely going to have to play them again.”
The Gaels have been Gonzaga’s closest pursuer these last several years, but Bennett acknowledged that they need to win a few before it’ll be the rivalry their fans like to think it is.
“There’s not a lot for us to say,” he admitted, “until we get on the upper end of that.”
But that’s where Samhan came in – brash, even crude, always media accessible, demonstrative, out there.
“Hey Samhan,” read one sign, “I remember my first tattoo.”
Who will get that abuse now?
“Oh, they’ll miss me, definitely,” Samhan said with a smile. “And the truth is, I love it up here, man. It’s a great place with a great crowd. One of the reasons they have a good team is because of the unbelievable crowd they have.”
A great crowd now in need of another great villain.
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