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Raucous fans at Spokane Arena say Kentucky, Gonzaga showdown early in season will be learning experience

Nov. 20, 2022 Updated Sun., Nov. 20, 2022 at 9:31 p.m.

A pro-Gonzaga crowd cheers during the Bulldogs matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Sunday.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
A pro-Gonzaga crowd cheers during the Bulldogs matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Sunday. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

It had been nearly 20 years since the Gonzaga men’s basketball team faced Kentucky, and after its recent loss to Texas it was ready for a win.

The Zags defeated the Wildcats 88-72 in front of an energized crowd of more than 12,000 at Spokane Arena on Sunday night. It was the first time the team had played at the Arena since 2014, when they defeated Washington State.

Dressed in red and navy blue, Zags fans were seldom off their feet, waving red towels and erupting into cheers as the team scored.

Paul and Valerie Slater, from Pikeville, Kentucky, traveled to Spokane for Sunday night’s game expecting to see a win for their team.

They did not expect members of the Gonzaga student section to use expletives in cheers, they said.

Gonzaga’s student section was in full force well before the game started.

The Slaters frequently travel to see the Wildcats play, but not usually this far west, Paul Slater said. Patches of Kentucky fans wearing sky blue merchandise speckled the crowded arena.

“We’re used to having a bigger group of fans,” Valerie Slater said looking around the raucous event.

Despite the smaller contingent of Kentucky fans, Slater said the show of force will be a good learning experience for the team going into the rest of the season.

That was the consensus from fans on both sides Sunday night.

“It’s a good time to lose,” said Ryan Songey, a 2019 graduate of Gonzaga who was in the audience with his dad, Jim Songey, who traveled from Danville, California, for the game.

Despite the Zags’ double-digit win over the Wildcats, most fans said it was still too early to predict the team’s performance later this season.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for the Zags to play someone like the University of Kentucky so early on,” said Steve Coleman, of Spokane. “Anytime you can get a blue blood at Spokane, it’s just awesome.”

Like many fans, Coleman said he was just excited to see a big name coming to Spokane in November.

“Three years ago, we never played big games this early in the season,” said Zags fan Adrian Pulczinski, who admitted he was doubtful of the Zags’ talent when he first moved to Spokane. “My family is from Louisville, so I know how good Kentucky is. It’s all the more reason to root against them.”

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