Connor Palacio has enough Gonzaga spirit to spread around the entire city of Los Angeles.
On Thursday, Palacio was doing so in downtown Los Angeles hours before the Bulldogs took the court for their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 showing. He had painted his entire face red and blue and was dressed in Gonzaga gear from head to toe.
He learned to showcase his die-hard fandom after four years on the court as a cheerleader for the Zags from 2014 to last season when the Zags marched to the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four in Phoenix.
Palacio now has to watch the fun on TV from his new home in L.A. or from his seat in the stands with many other Gonzaga graduates when the Zags travel to southern California during the regular season.
“Every time I watch a game there’s always a moment where it’s like, oh my gosh, I really wish I could just be there yelling in person,” Palacio said.
Palacio was able to get tickets to the first session of the West Regional semifinals on Thursday, which featured Michigan against Texas A&M in one semifinal and Gonzaga against Florida State in the other.
Palacio moved back to his roots in the Los Angeles metro area after graduating from Gonzaga last year. He’s one of 1,543 GU alums in L.A. and Orange County.
He was one a few hundred alumni gathered at the Don Chente Bar and Grill across the street from the Staples Center for lunch and drinks Thursday afternoon. The alumni pregame party, put together by Gonzaga alumni Los Angeles chapter president Danielle Cendejas, consisted mostly of graduates who reside in Orange County.
That wasn’t the case last week in Boise when the alumni parties were taken over by Spokane residents who went on the six- to seven-hour road trip to watch the Zags play in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
The L.A. site put quite a few more miles between the Zags and their fans and is a substantially more expensive place to visit for a game, making it difficult for most fans to make the trip this week.
There were a few who managed to get to L.A. this week to represent the Gonzaga fans from Spokane. Jane Korn, dean of Gonzaga University School of Law, flew into town for her second postseason trip this year. She was also in Las Vegas earlier this month to watch the Zags take the West Coast Conference Tournament championship.
On Thursday, Korn was in the middle of the alumni party mingling with law school graduates and other former students who had since moved to California.
“It’s just great to connect with them and feel the great spirit of Gonzaga here,” she said.
Dan Harbaugh, a member of Gonzaga Athletics’ booster club, was one of a few others at Thursday’s pregame social who flew into Los Angeles this week.
Harbaugh has seen nearly every Gonzaga game in the postseason since 1995, missing just GU’s trip to Tucson, Arizona, in 2005 for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Over the years, Harbaugh has made a point to reach out to Gonzaga alumni chapters of the cities that host the tournament to meet new alums at pregame socials and to hopefully see old friends.
“They’re great fun,” Harbaugh said. “The camaraderie is great. You see people you haven’t seen in 20, 30 years.”
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