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Gonzaga Basketball

John Blanchette: Gonzaga’s sheer strength more newsworthy than series renewal

At about a quarter past 9 on Wednesday night, Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski put his 7-foot-1, 300-pound chassis in fourth gear and accelerated downcourt past every University of Washington player on the floor.

The catch and the dunk at the end were incidental.

The reward, as they like to say, is in the journey. Especially for a guy who, a year ago at this time, couldn’t walk.

Why at that point Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar didn’t call timeout and yank about three scholarships for the collective indifference can only be attributed to some pesky NCAA rules and his own humanity. Or maybe he didn’t notice.

There were nothing but flames all around him, and all he had handy was an atomizer.

So this is what all the fuss was about? This cross-state rivalry? Gonzaga 98, Washington 71?

Sorry for helping stir it up.

That’s may not be entirely fair. Before this four-game contract between these two schools runs its course, it’s bound to get better. Maybe as soon as next year. The Huskies have one of those eye-popping recruiting classes coming and … OK, we’ve heard that before. Still, the law of averages and all that.

But this revival of a series put on hiatus by the Huskies a decade ago is supposed to be good for college basketball and the passions of a region. Instead, it’s resumed the way it previously ended.

Worse, actually.

Not that it’s Gonzaga’s problem. Never was.

“By the time March comes around, every game is like that,” Bulldogs guard Silas Melson said. “Every game has hype. You can’t let your game be about that.”

At least the ramp-up was fun. The Kennel was animated and alive in a way that suggested the kids’ blood was circulating again after spending a few nights out tent-camping with temperatures in the teens – which, of course, they did. All the old folks got free T-shirts to make them feel part of it. Somebody in the Kennel Club held up a sign that read “We Want Bama” – tweaking Husky football hubris.

Perhaps the signmaker knew the football team could taking the hazing. The Husky basketball team is way too fragile.

And Gonzaga exposed it in the most cruel fashion.

After missing their first two shots, the Bulldogs buried 11 in a row. It was two minutes into the second half before Washington matched that number. Markelle Fultz, the gifted freshman guard who will next suit up for the Lottery Pick All-Stars, managed 25 pointless points, on 26 shots. The Huskies did set a Northwest record for offensive rebounds, but often that was a matter of being in position to catch some of the worst misses imaginable.

“I’m not happy with it, don’t get me wrong,” coach Mark Few said, “but mostly that was about great first-shot defense.”

The Huskies simply had nothing going for them. No flow, no aggression, no … concept. The Zags had a good deal to do with that, and everything to do with the concept of their own.

“Everybody says we’re so deep,” guard Jordan Mathews said. “I can imagine it being tough to play us.”

But more than deep, there’s something – maturity? – that sets them apart.

The game’s not-so-subtle subtext – Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss playing against his former team for the first time as the latest in a line of UW-to-GU transfers –got a big workout beforehand, from everyone except the Bulldogs “who weren’t really going to go down that road,” according to Few.

Not that there weren’t detours.

Williams-Goss and teammates revealed that he had to dash into the locker room during warmups to settle himself. Once he did, however, he emerged with a ridiculous line: 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, five rebounds,five assists and solid defense on Fultz when asked.

Mathews, for one, was beyond impressed.

“That’s big,” the senior transfer from California said. “I can’t imagine playing against Cal right now. I just transferred from there and he’s had a year gap, but that must be a weird uniform to wear. I’m sure it was a weird feeling going against your old coach and guys who recruited you, who you forged bonds with.

“But it’s basketball, and whoever’s wearing the different jersey just has to compete.”

Compete is precisely what the Zags have done, from game one. They’re 9-0 now, one of 10 unbeaten teams left in college basketball – 20 percent of those hailing from the West Coast Conference. And while more challenges await – and better than the Zags faced this night – the assignment looks ever more daunting for the opposition.

Maybe that’s what the fuss should be about.