It’s easy to imagine the bigwigs at ESPN, those whose lives revolve around the rating numbers, hate blowouts.
Especially when a game on one of their properties begins after 11 p.m. on an East Coast socked in with snow, possibly making such a late game a bit more attractive.
But they didn’t get their wish Thursday night, as 19th-ranked Gonzaga led by 18 at halftime and, after every TV east of the Mississippi clicked off, ran away from overmatched Pepperdine, 89-59.
What they saw …
The ESPNU crew on the Zags’ 13th win of the season included two professionals, Roxy Bernstein on play-by-play and Caron Butler as the analyst.
Professionals, yes, but not sit-down comedians, in the vein of Bill Walton, or broadcast legends, such as Dick Vitale. So filling the time after Gonzaga went on a big first-half run, wasn’t entertaining enough to keep the TVs on here on the West Coast, let alone in those snowed under elsewhere.
Bernstein tried to keep the sleepy Easterners involved early, as the Zags started slowly, with every starter missing a shot out of the box – except Johnathan Williams, who made GU’s first bucket after 150 seconds.
Heck, 4 minutes in Bernstein understated, “a little bit of an uneven start for Gonzaga tonight.” The Zags were shooting less than 25 percent and trailed a team that is young, injured and losers of five consecutive games.
But that was before Pepperdine (3-12, 0-3 in West Coast Conference play) went almost 7 minutes without scoring. The Zags began shooting better and outscored the Waves by 20 over the final 14 minutes of the half.
“They’re just changing the momentum,” said Butler, who played more than a decade in the NBA, “and that can be real deflating if you are a young team because you come … to the offensive end and you want to play hero.”
There were no heroes for the Waves, who actually had two shots inadvertently bank-in during the first 20 minutes or the edge would have been even more.
“After a sluggish first five minutes,” Bernstein said as halftime loomed, “(Gonzaga) really stepped it up.”
What we saw …
Butler knows basketball. That’s easy to see. But he struggled at times to express that knowledge to the viewers.
Sometimes it seemed he had so much to say he couldn’t stop, talking so long that his main thought was lost. Other times he responded to a Bernstein comment by just agreeing, without building on the thought.
One thing was sure. There were about a half-dozen Zags of which Butler said “I really love what I’m seeing out of (fill-in the Gonzaga player here).”
There is also a love of clichés – “there’s a bullseye on your back” or “it’s not like they’re rebuilding, they’re just reloading” – and an occasional odd statement – after four Zags slipped at about the same spot in the key, Butler wondered if it was “by design,” as if Pepperdine was cheating.
It almost seemed as if Killian Tillie was, scoring a game-high 22 points (on 9-of-10 shooting), grabbing eight rebounds, blocking two shots and leading the way in earning Butler’s “love what I’m seeing from” statements.
At one point in the second half after the sophomore scored with a left-handed layup on one end, Butler said: “He’s putting on a demonstration.” A second later Tillie blocked a shot with authority. “You were saying,” Bernstein asked. “The demonstration continues,” Butler said, with a laugh.
As did the rout. Even as the Gonzaga starting guards – Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell, Jr. struggled, combining to shoot 8-of-24 and scored just 18 points combined.
“Remember when Pepperdine was up four,” Bernstein asked with 12 minutes remaining and Gonzaga leading by more than two dozen. “Seems so long ago,” Butler responded.
“It was a long time ago,” Bernstein said, laughing.
Back when people outside of Spokane may have been watching.
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