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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

John Blanchette: Gonzaga perfectly fine not talking about the prospects of going un… never mind

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 16, 2021

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Shhh. Don’t mention the you-know-what Gonzaga has going.

Especially after this weekend.

This edict applies to everyone now, apparently. Baseball’s great superstition – that when a pitcher has a no-hitter in the making, his teammates aren’t supposed to even whisper it in the dugout lest an evil spell be cast – has somehow been expanded to cover all interested parties, plus the unaware billions otherwise engaged with, you know, life. And for some reason, this includes the news media, which is supposed to report stuff.

It’s not just a baseball deal anymore, either. Goes for streaks of any kind, and in basketball, too.

Back in 2006, for example, when the Bulldogs were perfect in their still-newish arena in the first 33 home games, the subject was broached with coach Mark Few.

“You’re not going to jinx it, are you?” he said, trying to head off a headline.

So this latest Gonzaga, uh, phenomenon will require talking in code.

Let’s say the Zags are having, oh, a candy sale. And the goal isn’t to sell the most bars, but every single bar.

Wink wink. Get it?

They’re certainly on a roll. The first doorbell the Zags pushed was Kansas, who usually figures on selling all his own candy bars. But it turns out he couldn’t resist. Then there was that grumpy old man West Virginia, and while he spent 40 minutes putting up an argument, he eventually gave in, just to get the pests off his porch. Iowa was busy fattening up the hogs for the state fair and bought several. And even that noted tightwad Virginia not only bought in bulk, he waved the Zags inside to help gobble it up.

Into West Coast Conference play and the run on candy continued – BYU, San Francisco, Portland and, after some pressure tactics, Pepperdine.

Then came Saturday night.

And for the most part, Randy Bennett and his Saint Mary’s Gaels weren’t buying. But Bennett never has much of a sweet tooth.

In the end, the Zags managed to snatch a couple of dollars in change off the dresser and left the chocolate, but even with a final score of 73-59 it was more negotiation than sale.

This is the kind of thing Few warned of Thursday night after Pepperdine put up its dukes for 30 minutes when he said, “We’re just not going to blow everybody out in the first half. It’s just not going to happen.”

There are, indeed, no automatics.

Some nights there’s an old hand like Bennett who always has a plan – a slower pace, a bigger-than-normal lineup, making the Zags chase, playing physical – and a determined rival going to the glass with vigor.

Some nights, the youngsters in Few’s lineup will be too antsy even for an offense so married to playing in tempo and transition. What was the old Woodenism? Be quick, but don’t hurry?

Some nights, you just won’t have it.

“We looked tired,” Few allowed after beating the Gaels. “We played tired.”

The final score will probably cost the Zags a few first-place votes in the polls, even with the reputation the Gaels have built over the years. And some pollsters are bound to notice that Saint Mary’s is 0-3 to start the WCC season and quite clearly without the kind of high-level difference maker that’s carried its past teams – even if one-time walk-on Tommy Kuhse looked like Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova for about 10 minutes.

Still … 14 candy bars sold, no turn-downs.

Now, can the Zags sell them all?

It’s the kind of proposition that would irritate most coaches in this position and Few is hardly any different because A) it’s just mid-January and B) selling the last bar is – while not the only thing the matters – the thing that matters most.

But when a team has been so persuasive in peddling its wares, the speculation is inevitable.

The Zags have, after all, been the No. 1 team in the polls all season long, other than the coaches putting Baylor atop the heap in the preseason vote. That’s eight weeks running with eight to go, and a stark contrast to the 2020 season when six different schools had been No. 1 to this point – and a seventh ascended on Jan. 20.

It’s college basketball gospel that the last team to win all … er, sell all it’s candy was Indiana in 1976, a 45-year gap that speaks well to both a growth in talent and better distribution of it. It also suggests the law of averages should get a test sometime, but that’s more wishful thinking than reasoned math.

Speaking of math, college hoops’ main man on that score, Ken Pomeroy, has the Zags with a 61.6% chance of finishing the regular season undef … sorry, on track for a full sale. Only the Feb. 27 game at BYU comes is pegged at less than a 90% likelihood of a success – just a measly 85.

But the real tests are getting through a WCC Tournament against teams that have already seen them twice and then whatever the NCAA selectors plot for them. Remember all the obstacles that Kentucky faced in the bracket in 2015.

And remember, too, how easily Baylor is moving its candy.

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