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Gonzaga Basketball

TV take: New-look Zags get Dickau approval, show pace, strength in win over Yale

By Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

This wasn’t your older brother’s Gonzaga season home-opening game. Even the long-time KHQ broadcast trio of Greg Heister, Dan Dickau and Richard Fox could feel it – before the 86-71 victory over Yale began. And nothing that happened in the first half changed their mind.

Maybe it wasn’t a rout, but it certainly was, as Dickau mentioned, appreciated. And probably exactly what the new-look Zags needed. As the second half showed.

What they saw …• Another year, another example of why Fox is so valuable with this crew.

Dickau is the guy who seems to know every stat whenever needed – and has the ability to explain the nuances of the game.

Heister is the hype machine, saying “wow” and “bang” whenever Gonzaga does anything special – and occasionally when it doesn’t.

But it’s Fox who is the glue guy, the quiet voice who keeps KHQ’s broadcasts grounded, keeping the focus on what’s happening in front of the trio’s center-court broadcasting position, not at it.

And Friday night, in the Kennel to open the 11th-ranked Zags’ season, Fox’s understated excellence was again appreciated.

In some ways, though Heister is the play-by-play voice, it’s Fox who ends up giving those of us watching at home a summary of what happened. And what happened in the second half is Gonzaga forced New Haven’s Bulldogs to play the Spokane Bulldogs’ game.

• After Yale had taken an early lead, Heister pointed out a simple fact: “Wow, what a physical start in Spokane, gentlemen!” he exclaimed as the game went to commercial. How to handle that type of physicality? Outrun it.

Which, as Dickau pointed out, is exactly what the Zags did – even though GU played three bigs often.

That lineup, which Heister hinted was a possibility in pregame, was necessary for two reasons. The first was the season-ending injury suffered by Eastern Washington transfer Steele Venters, who started Gonzaga’s exhibition game at a wing position. The second? Because Venters’ replacement in the lineup, freshman Dusty Stromer, picked up two fouls in only 11 first-half minutes.

With either Ben Gregg or Brandon Huff playing the “3” spot, the Zags gave Yale a tough decision. Match up, or try to spread them out? The matchup option was out and, thanks to 7-of-30 3-point shooting with just 7 minutes left, also failed to work.

“This team feels like a team that could be a very high-level rebounding team throughout the year,” said Fox as the Zags ending up winning the board battle 42-28.

What we saw …

• Ryan Nembhard showed a bit of what he brought with him from Creighton during the exhibition, but how would he perform against a 21-win team from last season that included an NIT appearance? He was everything Gonzaga fans hoped.

And more, in a way, as he ran the show with a group that included just three players who played extended minutes last season: Anton Watson, Nolan Hickman and Gregg.

“This is a team that is new to each other,” is how Heister put it.

So true. But the second half, it didn’t seem that way. A five-point halftime lead stretched to as much as 21. How?

“They only got a couple open looks,” is how Dickau described GU’s second-half defense, though the operative word he used was locked in. The visiting Bulldogs shot less than 30% for much of that 20 minutes, including from beyond the arc.

On offense, Gonzaga spread the wealth, which caused the broadcast crew to divide its player of the game award three ways, with Watson, Huff and Nembhard all getting a shout-out.

Watson had 11 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-10 Huff, who redshirted last year, had 19 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes.

Nembhard finished with 16 points, seven assists and one turnover in all 40 minutes – although he looked to tweak his ankle in the final minute of the 15-point win.