Dick Vitale has seen Gonzaga enough this season to come prepared.
The veteran ESPN announcer had pages and pages of material ready when the Zags blew out Santa Clara in the West Conference semifinals Monday night.
At least he joked he did.
But he didn’t need it. That’s because, like the Gonzaga games Vitale broadcast in Florida in November, this one was close as well.
How close? How about 77-68? More importantly, how about 56-51 with 9 minutes left? Or 68-63 with 2 minutes remaining? Of course Gonzaga was leading at all those times, but still.
It was the No. 4 team in the nation, a possible No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, tested by a team it had defeated by 30-plus points twice.
“This will be over in the first 5 minutes,” Vitale said, though not on air. He made that statement to his wife before the game and relayed it to the viewers with about 7 minutes left.
Maybe Mrs. Vitale shouldn’t let her husband make any bets while in Vegas.
But who could have seen it coming? Well, Nigel Williams-Goss for one.
“It’s postseason basketball,” the WCC most valuable player told Jeff Goodman in the on-court postgame interview. “They’re playing for their lives, desperate. They know they had to win the tournament to get in (the NCAAs).
“Nothing is going to come easy in March.”
So far it hasn’t for Gonzaga, what with Pacific hanging tough through a half on Saturday and Santa Clara (17-16) within five until Williams-Goss’ clutch 3-pointer with 1:45 remaining sealed the Broncos’ fate.
It was only the Zags second 3-pointer of the night – Zach Collins would make the third with 45 seconds left – as opposed to Santa Clara’s nine, including four from Jared Brownridge, who had 32 points in his final game against the Bulldogs.
Vitale and play-by-play man Dave O’Brien, or “OB” as Vitale continually referred to him as, mentioned the disparity often. It was one of their talking points from the opening tip.
Another was how easy the game should be for GU.
“I thought it would be over by now,” Vitale said less than 12 minutes in. And he had faith in the Zags throughout the first half.
“All it’s going to take is one little spurt,” he opined 4 minutes before the half, just as the Bulldogs went on a 13-2 run.
But the Broncos didn’t go away, fighting their way back in it in the second half. When they cut a 15-point lead to five the first time, Vitale made his joke about the fill material not being needed.
Funny, if a bit overplayed. But more than anything, it was true.
Until Williams-Goss took control.
“He is so special,” Vitale said after Williams-Goss’ dagger 3-pointer, part of his team-high 25 points. “He’s a special collegian.” And O’Brien added, “that’s an All-American (play).”
But one could wonder if there were a couple of items on the filler sheets Vitale threw away that should have been used.
No one could have known the game would start with what was reported as a women’s sized basketball, but both announcers must have known Williams-Goss had made 43 consecutive free throws coming in. That streak ended at the 14:05 mark when he missed, an occurrence not mentioned on air.
In fact, though Williams-Goss would miss another one in the second half, O’Brien said “he just doesn’t miss at the foul line” with 6:34 left to play.
Another miss came at Silas Melson’s expense.
The guard was on the receiving end of a Williams-Goss pass with 5 minutes left, but Jarvis Pugh met him at the rim and blocked the shot. Vitale and O’Brien raved.
Problem was, neither the ESPN pair or the three officials, Verne Harris, David Hall or Mike Reed, seemed to notice Pugh body-blocked Melson to the ground, actually pounding him at least 6 feet to the left.
But Vitale didn’t miss one important aspect of the tight game, an aspect that might not show up until later.
“(The Broncos) are really physically making them exert themselves,” Vitale said of the Zags, going on to say GU probably expected an opportunity to rest a bit coming in. “That could be a factor tomorrow.”
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