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Gonzaga rewind: Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire sees Zags as title contenders with room for growth

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 26, 2020

Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire reacts to a call during the first half of Saturday’s 92-59 loss to Gonzaga. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire reacts to a call during the first half of Saturday’s 92-59 loss to Gonzaga. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Pacific head coach Damon Stoudamire isn’t shy about expressing his opinion, as demonstrated by his running dialogue with the officiating crew in Saturday night’s 92-59 loss to Gonzaga.

It was a long night for Pacific, which became the latest WCC team to lose big to Gonzaga, but the Tigers are making progress in year four under Stoudamire. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few called it “the best Pacific team we’ve played” since the Tigers joined the WCC in 2013-14.

Stoudamire, who played on national championship contenders at Arizona and assisted at national powers Memphis and Arizona earlier this decade, took a few minutes postgame to assess Gonzaga’s team and the Zags’ NCAA Tournament outlook.

Asked to compared last year’s team with this year’s, Stoudamire began by saying, “You’ve always got to be careful the way you choose your words.

“I think around the country there’s more parity, so I don’t think this is as good a Gonzaga team but I don’t think the country is as good, if that makes sense. Like, they’re still a really good team but obviously they’ve got a lot of components that’s not there, and they’re still right there in the mix.

“This might be just as good a shot as they have to win it all, just because there’s no clear-cut (favorite) like it has been in the past. You always kind of zeroed in on one or two teams, maybe three. You don’t have that this year. Whoever gets hot at the right time can win it, and they’ve got to be one of a handful of teams that obviously can get hot and win six games.”

Parity is one of the main themes in college basketball, with seven different No. 1-ranked teams, including Gonzaga for a four-week stretch before being replaced by Baylor. Parity expands the list of programs capable of winning the NCAA Tournament.

Stoudamire talked at length about Gonzaga’s battle with injuries and the Zags’ potential for growth.

“I think they can get better,” said Stoudamire, who noted he’s glad that Pacific only had one regular-season matchup against the Zags. “I think the front line is solid. I think guard play will probably be the one thing if anyone has questions about, because you’ve got to try to pick something, right? So, just based on the experience factor and who they’ve always had in the past, I think there’s always been a comfort zone sitting over there, in terms of guys who can handle the ball since I’ve been in the league.

“To have Nigel (Williams-Goss) and to have Josh Perkins … was pretty nice comfort zones, and those are guys that have been through some real wars and won some big games for the program. So I think, the guards keep growing, they can continue to grow as a team.”

Watson on the mend

Anton Watson underwent surgery Wednesday after a frustrating stretch in which his left shoulder popped out of place in four of 12 games. The freshman forward gamely played through the injury with a shoulder brace before the decision was made to have season-ending surgery.

The timing of the surgery should put Watson on track for getting back on the court by early summer to work out with returning and incoming Zags.

Watson didn’t attend Saturday’s win and likely won’t make the road trip to the Bay Area this week. He’ll probably be in a sling for eight weeks. He made five starts in 15 appearances and averaged 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds.

Shoulder surgery recovery can be a lengthy process. Former Zag Josh Perkins had an operation in April 2018 and needed virtually all of the offseason to fully heal for the 2018-19 season.

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