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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

John Blanchette: Gonzaga coaches sweat through quarterfinal with eyes on family matters

LAS VEGAS – They call it Madness, but for a coach, March can be more of a taffy pull – the days twisted in every direction.

On Friday night, Mark Few and his youngest son, Colt, sat in an airplane, taxiing toward takeoff. He’d gone straight to the airport from the Spokane Arena after watching Kittitas’ Brock Ravet – a recruit who’s already committed to Gonzaga – shoot his team into the finals of the State 2B basketball tournament, which the Coyotes would win again Saturday.

As the wheels broke from the runway and the plane nosed upward, the tablet in Few’s lap showed the streamed image of Gonzaga Prep’s Anton Watson – another class of 2019 commit – nailing a cold-blooded 3-pointer to send the Bullpups past Richland and into the State 4A title game. Few had an extra rooting interest in that one – he and his GU assistant, Tommy Lloyd, have sons who are Watson’s teammates.

Then it was wheels down in Las Vegas, where there was drudge work to be done in Gonzaga’s own little house of dread: quarterfinal Saturday in the West Coast Conference tournament.

On Saturday, G-Prep won the 4A championship, and Liam Lloyd and A.J. Few celebrated. A few hours later, Mark Few and Tommy Lloyd took a deep breath, more relief than reward.

A few years back, the WCC’s format awarded double byes to the semis’ top two teams, and you can understand why Few was a big fan, because these Saturday night specials have often turned into fistfights for the Bulldogs.

As such, it probably should have been no surprise that the Zags had to work so hard to shed Loyola Marymount 83-69 in the prime-time game at Orleans Arena – not getting any extra oxygen until the game’s final six minutes.

“You look back at our history in these things, and it’s always been a struggle,” Few said. “But they’re tough on everybody. I watched Michigan State barely get by Wisconsin the other day.

“You get a heavy favorite who already knows they’re playing in the NCAA Tournament and a team with not just nothing to lose, but a lot to gain. And you can talk ’til you’re blue in the face to your guys about it, but it’s hard to get the message across.”

Just last year, the Zags led plodding Pacific by just two at halftime before stirring. Back in 2014, they needed a coast-to-coast layup by David Stockton at the buzzer to subdue the tournament’s No. 9 seed, Santa Clara.

“I even remember we were playing Loyola that year we made our run to the Elite Eight that started this whole thing,” Few said, “and they lit us up.”

Close. It was actually the year before, in 1998, the Zags sweating out a 79-78 overtime thriller against the eighth seed.

The quicksand this time was a concoction of the best defense the Lions could muster, 10 first-half Gonzaga turnovers and missed layups and some foul-line follies. Not until Jonathan Williams started dunking on everyone and Killian Tillie began winging in 3s did the Zags find themselves, though the Lions didn’t go away willingly.

The Zags need no lessons in digging one out – they’ve been doing it for more than a month. But if they did, they could have cribbed from their namesake high school, which came from behind in both their semifinal and final victories. In Saturday’s title game, Liam Lloyd had 15 points – while his dad and Few watched the live stream in separate hotel rooms just before having to catch the bus to the Orleans.

Mark Few had been in Tacoma for G-Prep’s semifinal win on Thursday; Tommy Lloyd watched the Richland classic on Friday before flying to Las Vegas on Saturday morning.

“It’s definitely different being a parent than a coach,” Lloyd said. “The most important thing is stepping back and letting it be their journey. I would love to be there, but I’m OK not being there, and letting him have his own moment and creating his own identity.”

The dads were missed, to be sure – “but I feel like I have to play the same way every day whether he’s here or not,” Liam said.

They saw enough of the big moments along the way in G-Prep’s undefeated season, while helping their own players create their own. But sometimes there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

“I’ve got four kids playing basketball,” Few said with a laugh, “and the weeks are just a zoo. Julia is playing on two different teams. Colt’s in a league now and has games out at the HUB that start at 8 p.m. Joe is at Prep and has games all over.

“But it all goes so fast. It’s just crazy that A.J. is done. But that’ll be something those guys can share and remember and talk about for a lifetime.”

As for quarterfinal Saturday in the WCC, enough said.

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