It may have been, as Dave Flemming said more than once, the most anticipated home game in Gonzaga’s history.
If it was, then the product on the floor didn’t meet those expectations, as the Zags pulled away in the second half and rolled visiting North Carolina 94-81.
For those who weren’t among the lucky 6,000 who could get into McCarthey Athletic Center on Wednesday night, it was Flemming and, more important, analyst Jay Bilas bringing them the game on ESPN2. It may not have been the in-the-arena experience but, in some ways, it may even have been better.
What they saw …
• “This Gonzaga team, man, they play hard and they play well,” Bilas said in the first half. “That last play … get a loose ball, pass it out, make all the right passes, shot fake, get it inside. That’s beautiful basketball that Gonzaga is playing right now. Just beautiful basketball.”
Unless the person sitting next to you in Section 115 also attended Duke, is a law school grad and the most prominent burr under the NCAA’s saddle, said something akin to that, you weren’t getting the same experience.
Though it’s doubtful you enjoyed the tempo of the contest more than Bilas.
“It’s fun to watch two teams going up and down the floor, isn’t it?” Bilas said.
“It’s been a fun game to watch so far,” Flemming answered.
Inside and out of the Kennel.
• Speaking of that, the Kennel Club was on point, at least in the vicinity of Flemming and Bilas’ vantage point.
The duo continually praised the student section, mentioning not only their enthusiasm but also their circumstances – it’s Christmas break at the school.
Maybe that’s why Bilas compared the McCarthey experience to a place he’s intimately familiar with, Duke’s Cameron Indoor Arena.
Bilas also mentioned more than a handful of times he feels Gonzaga can win a national title this season.
• In a contest with a program as iconic as North Carolina, it was appropriate to have an ESPN crew on the game.
Bilas continually explained UNC’s problems this season, relating them to what was happening on the court. And, despite their blue-blooded history, the Tar Heels are having issues typical of a 6-5 team.
Injuries – freshman star Cole Anthony, the leading scorer, did not play. Shooting woes – UNC was 2 of 10 beyond the arc in the first half. Inexperience – one senior actually played, though Brandon Robinson only played in the first half due to illness.
Bilas kept everyone updated. And he did the same for those who are not as tuned into the second-ranked Zags (12-1).
“They have nine new faces on this roster yet they play like they’ve been together forever,” he mentioned early on.
What we saw …
• Gonzaga wasn’t as sharp as it has been this season on the defensive end and it was noticed. Though it came from the studio crew.
“Gonzaga is so talented, a national championship-caliber team,” Seth Greenberg said at halftime. “It looked to me in a lot of ways, defensively, like they were going through the motions. Mark Few will not be happy with their effort, their attention to detail on the defensive end.”
Bilas caught up in the second half, though.
“Where Gonzaga is still getting to know each other and where it is showing up they have new pieces is defensively,” Bilas said as GU stretched the lead to 20. “They’re not a great communicating defensive team yet. … (When their) defense rises to the level of their offense, this is another Final Four-caliber team that Mark Few and his staff have.”
The key matchup …
• The only reason North Carolina stayed within shouting distance – if 20 points down in the second half is that – was due to one player.
“If it wasn’t for Garrison Brooks scoring, where would Carolina be right now?” Bilas asked.
Brooks, a 6-foot-9 junior post, not only scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but he also put pressure on Gonzaga’s bigs.
Killian Tillie, playing despite leaving the Arizona game with a sprained ankle, dealt with foul trouble.
Filip Petrusev, despite scoring 20 points, shot 3 of 8 from the floor in the first half. But Corey Kispert, as has been the case much of the season, took up the slack, missing just two shots (10 of 12) en route to a game-high 26 points.
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