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Monday, January 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Basketball gods smile on Stocktons

LAS VEGAS – David Stockton had one question and one question only after his SportsCenter moment, the layup that forestalled Zagpocalypse.

“How many did Laura have?” he wondered.

This would be his sister Laura, who – 1,150 road miles from the Orleans Arena – had earlier in the evening won a state championship with her Gonzaga Prep Bullpups teammates.

“I have no idea,” said Brian Michaelson, an assistant at – for this evening, anyway – this other Gonzaga. “But she overshadowed you.”

Stockton considered this for about a nanosecond, and delivered the only assist a big brother can.

“I hope so,” he said.

So there you have it. Stocktons at the heart of The Best Thing Ever and The Harrowing Escape from the Infernal Abyss on the same night, free to share a happy phone call without whispered consolations. It may have been an animated exchange, too, though David Stockton was doing his best not to bust through the size XS No-Big-Deal shirt he was modeling.

“I think he gave a little hop like his dad did when he hit that three,” teased Gonzaga coach Mark Few, referencing the video-memorialized buzzer-beater John Stockton buried to send the Utah Jazz to their first NBA Finals back in 1997, back when David was 5 years old.

“I didn’t do that,” snapped Stockton.

In fact, he had to push away Sam Dower, who had grabbed his teammate for the celebratory bear hug with a second still on the clock in a game that seemed to have a bottomless well of the worst that could happen.

But not this time.

Kyle Draginis spiked the desperation heave by Santa Clara’s John McArthur beyond the Gonzaga bench, and the Bulldogs mobbed the little hero of the 77-75 victory over the Broncos in the convoluted exercise that is the West Coast Conference Basketball Tournament.

Stockton’s layup – a twisting right-hander on the left side of the rim over Santa Clara defender Denzel Johnson – with 1.4 seconds to play may have kept the Zags alive for a couple more days. But it won’t quiet the carpers who will note quite correctly how the team nearly capsized against the WCC’s ninth seed and will insist, just for sport, how unworthy they are of the NCAA tournament berth they just may have salvaged.

They will snort at Few’s suggestion that it was “truly a great win for us.”

And they certainly will not be moved by the coach’s broadside at the new tournament format, which gave the Broncos a rest day after their first-round win, followed by another day off today.

“This is set up for a 10 (seed) and an eight to advance,” he said. “Get a day off and rest up. They’re used to the rims, comfortable, feeling good about themselves and they’ve got the jitters out of the way. I’ve never heard of this in all my life.

“What we need to do is take the women’s tournament and move it. Let it stand on its own and quit acting like High School Harrys.”

No one much wants to hear that. The Zags have long since made a mockery of the law averages by appearing in 16 consecutive WCC title games, but when the streak finally comes to an end it will be confirmation for the knowing minority that They’re Doing It All Wrong.

Well, they certainly did a goodly number of things wrong Saturday night.

They were a mess on offense for one half, a mess on defense for part of the next. They turned the ball over too much and made jump shots too seldom. They shot 53 percent, made 27 of 33 free throws (15 by Dower), outrebounded the Broncos by nine – and won by two.

Even after they’d finally crested the hump and taken several five-point leads – the last with 38 seconds left – they surrendered it on yet another toughly guarded bucket by Jared Brownridge, whose 24 points were remarkable to behold. That gave Stockton 9.1 seconds to work his magic, which he did with a high screen from Dower that picked off Brownridge, then a slight hesitation that put Johnson briefly on his heels.

“I could have gotten called for an offensive foul,” he reported, demonstrating that he’d used a forearm to nudge Johnson away. “But no one’s expecting me to clear space.”

If there were 7,688 in the stands surprised that it was Stockton being asked to make the winning play, he wasn’t.

“I’m glad my number was called,” he said.

But no more glad than he was for his sister, whose Bullpups came from 12 points down in the third quarter to beat Mt. Rainier for the State 4A title.

“I can’t wait to hear about it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to be part of my family right now.”

Oh, and she had 11 points. But none bigger than those last two by her big brother.

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