Just as soon as Jason Gardner took a few steps inside the Kennel, a few memories from his college days started coming back to him.
It helped seeing a couple of familiar faces – Gonzaga coach Mark Few at Gonzaga’s bench and former Zags standout Dan Dickau, who was busy at the media table across the court working as a commentator for the game broadcast.
Gardner, fourth-year head coach of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), first met Few and Dickau on the court 17 years ago when the Zags made a trip to Tucson, Arizona, to face the Arizona Wildcats in a nonconference showing in November 2000. Gardner was in his second season with the Wildcats, and Dickau was active in his first season with the Zags after transferring from Washington.
Next to Dickau was Few, who was leading the Zags in his second year as head coach.
It was a battle between a pair of teams that would go on to play in the NCAA Tournament in March, but it wasn’t quite the ending Dickau had hoped for in his first meeting with the Wildcats.
“We got robbed down in Arizona,” he said.
The Zags tied the game in the second half, but they lost big man Casey Calvary because of fouls.
“Then they ran away with it from there,” Dickau said. “It wasn’t a good overall ending to the game for us down there.”
Arizona, which was ranked fifth in the nation at the time, downed the Zags 101-87.
Gardner remembered the game as being one of several key victories for the Wildcats that put them on track for an impressive season.
“Certain wins kind of just change the season around,” said Gardner, who was a four-year All-American for Arizona.
It was a historic season for the Wildcats as they went on to the Final Four and lost to Duke in the championship game.
Gardner saw the Zags again as a senior when Arizona battled the Zags in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The pair battled into double overtime, but the Wildcats pulled out another win, edging Gonzaga 96-95. They advanced to the Elite Eight where they fell to Kansas.
Gardner, who was named the Naismith National Player of the Year that season, played the majority of the game against the Zags, putting up 22 points for Arizona.
Nearly 15 years later, Gardner found himself back on the court next to Few and Dickau – this time wearing a suit a tie.
He was in his usual spot at the head of the IUPUI bench inside the McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday, when they battled Gonzaga in what was their second matchup with a ranked opponent this season. After falling to then-No. 21 Purdue on Dec. 10, the Jaguars lost the No. 12 Zags 101-71.
The Zags created some distance at the start, ending the half with a 47-31 lead, but IUPUI rallied in the second half behind junior guard T.J. Henderson, who finished with a team-high 18 points.
IUPUI took on the Zags in the paint and pulled within 11 points before Gonzaga went on an 11-0 run to shake off the Jaguars for good.
“They’ve got great size. They’ve got very good shooters,” Gardner said of the Zags. “They move that ball well. It’s like they’ve been playing together for years.”
It was a lot like the team Gardner remembers from years ago – an NCAA Tournament team. But are these Zags capable of handling tough opponents like Gardner’s alma mater and getting deep into March Madness?
“Oh, I think so,” Gardner said. “They have a lot of weapons, and you can’t really key in on one guy. I think they’ve kind of shown all season long that they’re a very good team.”
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