Damon Stoudamire is used to the headlines, the close-ups on ESPN and “No. 1” sitting next to his team’s name in the AP Top 25 list.
The former star guard for Arizona, NBA veteran and first-year Pacific coach brought his team to McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday and got a first-hand look at the No. 1 team in the country.
He knows what it will take for Gonzaga to get to the Final Four.
“They’re good enough to win a national championship, but to win a national championship, you’re going to need a little luck along the way. So there’ll come some point in the NCAA tournament when they’ll need a ball to bounce their way, they’ll need to hit a big shot – or somebody miss a big shot – and that’s going to be the game right there,” Stoudamire said.
“Every year, whoever wins it, they’ve got one defining play that’s going to carry them over the hump.”
Stoudamire played for Arizona in the early 1990s when the Wildcats reached some of the top spots in the polls. After college, he played in the NBA for teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies before retiring in 2008.
In 2013, Stoudamire returned to Arizona as the team’s assistant head coach. That season, he watched the Wildcats climb to the No. 1 spot in the AP poll where they stayed for eight straight weeks.
Now Stoudamire is watching the nation’s top-ranked team from the other bench. But he didn’t seem to mind the seat change Saturday as Gonzaga defeated Pacific 82-61.
“It was cool,” Stoudamire said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason.”
This is Stoudamire’s first year as a head coach for a college team and it hasn’t been the smoothest ride. Pacific’s 10-19 record this season doesn’t quite match up to his experience at Arizona when the Wildcats made their way to the Elite Eight in back-to-back years.
But Stoudamire has stayed optimistic about this season and his future with a new team in the West Coast Conference.
“It’s been good. (We) could get more wins, but at the same time though I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (We’ve) got a good group of kids. They play hard and they’ve made my first year enjoyable,” Stoudmaire said.
Despite being without starters T.J. Wallace and Jacob Lambkin because of injuries, the Tigers managed to keep up with the Zags for a good part of the first half.
Pacific built its lead to five points in the first four minutes of the game and trailed Gonzaga by 13 at halftime. But the top dogs held down the Kennel and ran away in the second to topple the Tigers.
Saturday was Stoudamire’s first time inside the McCarthey Athletic Center and the first time he’s experience the hyped up Kennel that has received some national attention this season.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Stoudamire said, but that energetic student section won’t be with the Bulldogs in March. He said if the top-ranked Zags want to take home the No. 1 title at the end of the NCAA tournament, they’ll need a little more than talent and die-hard fans.
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