MORAGA, Calif. – The Gonzaga Bulldogs woke up Saturday morning to a nice pat on the head from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee.
So they returned the favor. With a kick in the ass.
Not that they necessary knew they were doing anything of the sort. Turns out they weren’t part of the viewing audience when the committee revealed its Top-16-seeds-so-far in sport’s latest televised contrivance, and thus didn’t witness the subtle patronizing.
“Didn’t see none of that,” junior forward Johnathan Williams III said. “I slept right up to 9:55 when we had to get going.”
Hey, we’ve been telling you all year these Zags were disciplined. Turns out it even extends to putting the full-court press on a pillow.
So the Zags put on their own show, again – this time for the pleasure of ESPN’s College GameDay audience and the dismay of most of the 3,500 customers vacuum-packed into quaint McKeon Pavilion on the Saint Mary’s campus, maybe the last true basketball hothouse on the West Coast.
Where the home team wilted Saturday night in the Gonzaga-generated light.
You could see it in layups and putbacks that went up too hard and runners and 3-pointers that found only air, in desperate defense and shots passed up, and in the sense that the Gaels understood everything had to go perfectly for them to have a chance at knocking off the nation’s No. 1 team.
It didn’t. Gonzaga didn’t run away like it did a month ago in Spokane, but the Zags’ 74-64 victory over the 20th-ranked Gaels was decisive and drama-free.
And double digits. Again. At this rate, Gonzaga is going to give the Game of the Century a bad name.
Oh, it was still a hoot. Standing-room-only clogged the aisles upstairs, so it must have been the Moraga fire marshal’s bowling night.
In the end, the Zags filed away Case No. 26 and remained The Untouchables, unbeaten and likely to stay that way now through the end of the season and probably beyond unless the Gaels find some magic bullet by the time the West Coast Conference Tournament rolls around.
“There was a lot of hype,” GU guard Silas Melson said. “College GameDay. It was a fun environment and the Saint Mary’s fans really brought it to us, so that made it funner. And it was a big step toward clinching the league, if we take care of business.”
Oh, the league. Funny how that gets lost in all the dither.
Funny how it’s the players who remember it.
This was not a carbon copy of the takedown in Spokane. The Gaels were able to keep big Jock Landale on the floor longer and he produced a 24-point, eight-rebound effort – indeed, he was the only Gael who produced. The Zags had a foul issue of their own and still built their biggest lead with leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss on the bench. And Przemek Karnowski was even bigger than his 7-foot-1, 300 pounds – brutalizing the Gaels with 15 points in the first 12 minutes.
But one thing didn’t change: The Bulldogs, for the most part, broke down the Saint Mary’s ball-screen bazaar and guards Joe Rahon and Emmett Naar. Five-of-20 from the floor in Spokane, they were 6 of 21 here, though – thanks to Landale – their assist numbers were up. But to watch them hounded by Melson and Co., and then see Karnowski chase them around on switches and still have the adrenaline to deliver at the other end, was pretty much the game-set-match of this one.
“The ball’s in Emmett and Joe’s hands a lot,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “They have to be tough enough to get us a good shot, and they usually are. But against Gonzaga, you have to be a little tougher and fight it out a little longer.”
So about that bracket business …
CBS called it the “March Madness Bracket Preview Show Presented by the Month of February.” OK, something shorter than that. Anyway, the first four seed lines – if this were Selection Sunday – were revealed and on the top one were Villanova, Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga.
In that order.
Unbeaten, top-ranked, first in all sorts of established metrics and power rankings – did we mention unbeaten? – and still the Zags were given only grudging entrée to the cool kids’ club.
The message was clear: Yeah, you belong, barely. And don’t you dare lose one, or down you go.
The committee got caught up in volume – and power conference fog. The Zags have eight RPI Top 100 wins; the other No. 1s have played 16 or 17 such games. But records vs. Top 25 teams are a wash, and Gonzaga’s overall perfection should be a clincher, not an afterthought.
“They haven’t had a close game in 2 1/2 months,” Bennett said. “People say this and that about them; nobody’s come close to beating them yet. They haven’t had a team that’s been this dominant.”
At least the committee has another month to get it right.