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John Blanchette: Never mind the white shirts; Gonzaga treasures blue-collar win

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 3, 2018, 11:31 p.m.

Adding it all up from Saturday night, it happens that:

  • Gonzaga dug out another one, this time in the final 2 1/2 minutes – not exactly making the Bulldogs the Cardiac Kids, but keep taking that low-dose aspirin every night, just in case.
  • The Bulldogs put an end to this hex or voodoo or whammy or whatever it was that Brigham Young held over their heads in the McCarthey Athletic Center the previous three years. There will be no further hacking of the gym’s Wikipedia page, denoting ownership by Eric Mike, Kyle Collinsworth, et al., rather than the campus fathers.
  • No sensibilities were offended in the winning of this game and, hey, that’s the most important thing.

Although the BYU guys may petition that the Kennel Club bring back the Mormon missionary wardrobe, just for the emotional boost or as a good luck charm or just to feel appreciated.

As it was, our reporters saw just one fan who showed up in white dress shirt and tie to test the new propriety. There was a guy in a ratty dog costume holding a sign that read, “Is this costume offensive to dogs?” So there are still isolated pockets on the Gonzaga campus willing to question authority and even good taste, and that’s what higher education is all about.

Have to wonder what the administration’s stance is on the Kennel Clubbers adorned in robes and mitres, however.

Then again, sometimes a good prayer comes in handy in a one-possession game, even from dubious sources.

But the real revelation out of Gonzaga’s 68-60 subduing of the Cougars on Saturday night was that you could tell the Zags treasured it as an achievement more than mere relief.

Yes, no doubt it felt mighty good to beat the Y after losing three years running on the home floor, and don’t think it didn’t register with Bulldogs both young and, well, running out of time.

“I was here for all three, so it’s big for me,” senior Silas Melson said. “But this whole room knew they’d come to Spokane three years in a row and beat us and that we couldn’t let it happen again.”

“It’s not just for the guys in here, but the guys the last three years who weren’t able to win,” teammate Jeremy Jones added.

Guys like Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell who had their Senior Night hijacked by the Cougars, and Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis who left campus without ever beating BYU in McCarthey, and the Przemeks and Nigels and Jordans and Zachs who saw 30-and-oh turned into 30-and-oh-so-near-yet-so-far last February.

Mark Few was a little more pragmatic, as coaches are – “I just want to win,” he said – but these sort of indignities do not escape young competitors who have not had to bounce back from blows to the psyche all that often.

Maybe a decisive thumping would have felt better, but the guess here is not.

What the Zags were able to savor was having the siccum to get it done in what Melson called “winning time,” to make the detail plays that the Cougars on this night couldn’t – not all of them, but enough. The Bulldogs actually been doing this over the course of three games now. Surely you’ve noticed.

There were several of those plays again against BYU, from various sources, but it was impossible to ignore freshman Zach Norvell Jr. stepping up after missing his first five 3-pointers to nail one and break a tie with 2:19 left – and then stripping the ball from BYU’s TJ Haws on a drive that could have cut the lead to two.

Of course, he was also the guy who let Haws loose for a damaging 3 a few minutes earlier.

“Coach Few could have been on me about that, but he kept me in,” Norvell said. “It would have been better if I’d gotten the stop and we didn’t have to go through that.”

No matter – as long as you make the next play.

It’s the kind of thing the Zags went through all night. BYU’s Yoeli Childs was a handful on the inside, but he didn’t score in the last 15 minutes. Melson had long stretches of limited effectiveness, but he took a brutal charge in the first half and had a steal in the last 30 seconds that snuffed the Cougars’ final chance.

And while somebody named Luke Worthington got loose for a career-high 15 points, the Zags rotated defenders – including Jones for eight solid minutes – and completely stifled Elijah Bryant, BYU’s most efficient scorer.

“It’s February now,” Melson said, “and when things aren’t going good for us, we have to find something that works in that moment.”

Even with an eye to the past.

“This was for Domas and Wiltj and Nigel and Shem,” Josh Perkins said. “Those guys all texted me before the game and told me to get this one done. This is one we really wanted.”

No offense to any of the Zags’ previous victims.

Follow along with the Zags

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