Even in this most unusual of college basketball seasons, the success Gonzaga consistently enjoys can get a little, well, boring might not be the right word, but it’s apt.
Quick start, lots of points, long runs, layups, wins.
So it’s always appreciated when a different point of view presents the most recent blowout. Such as what happened Saturday night during the Zags’ comfortable 116-88 road victory over overmatched Portland.
The contest was brought into Spokane living rooms by the West Coast Conference broadcast team of Ann Schatz and Francis Williams. The channel, however, was a bit of a surprise, at least for a while.
What they saw …
• It’s obvious seeing the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs in person is different than viewing them on tape or video or even live on your TV. Their offensive efficiency, their unselfish nature, their quick-strike capability always seem to come as a bit of a surprise. And it all impresses.
It did for Schatz and Williams, broadcasting their first GU game this season.
Late in the first half, as Gonzaga (12-0 overall, 3-0 in West Coast Conference play) built a 30-point lead, Schatz asked Williams to select, out of the 10 or so impressive things GU does, what “really floats your boat with these guys.”
“I know I’ve said it several times,” Williams answered, “but the ball movement we love. “But,” he continued, “the skill of each of their guys in terms of handling the ball, passing the ball, being unselfish. I mean, everybody is on the same page.”
Williams, a longtime Seattle basketball coach and analyst, went on to praise how willing the Zags are to execute the game plan, focusing on Saturday’s emphasis on getting the ball inside in the first half.
Gonzaga scored 42 of its 56 first-half points in the paint, including 19 by Drew Timme, eight for Anton Watson and another four by Oumar Ballo. The Zags finished with 80 points inside the key against the smaller Pilots (6-5, 0-2).
• Something happened that has never happened before in a Gonzaga game. And it happened just 3 minutes into the second half.
It also elicited the most exuberant response of the night by Schatz. And rightfully so.
When Joel Ayayi found Andrew Nembhard for a layup for a 66-38 lead, it was Ayayi’s 10th assist. With his 12 points and 12 rebounds at that moment, the 6-foot-5 junior had the first triple-double in school history.
“And there it is,” the veteran Schatz said, her voice rising. “Ayayi with the assist and he is the first Gonzaga Bulldog in school history with a triple-double.”
That ignited a conversation about Ayayi’s emergence and the accomplishment. After a back and forth, Schatz summed it up.
“That just gives me the chills. What a performance by Ayayi,” she said. “Think of all the great players that have come through Gonzaga and Ayayi stands alone.”
He also wasn’t done. He finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists.
What we saw …
• One has to wonder why KAYU, Spokane’s Fox affiliate, picked this game to broadcast (pairing with, outside of Eastern Washington, Root). KAYU already had the Seahawks’ playoff game on its docket, a game that began at 1:40 p.m. With the 5 p.m. tip in Portland’s Chiles Center, there was little chance the football game would be done in time.
There was still more than 2 minutes left in Seattle’s defeat when the Gonzaga broadcast was scheduled to begin. If you didn’t have social media, you probably didn’t know the game was available on SWX.
KAYU couldn’t pick up the broadcast until the Seahawks’ postgame show was over. That didn’t occur until there were less than 8 minutes left in the opening half and GU led 31-18.
• Watson posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting as GU’s 116 points were a season high.
His performance on both ends didn’t earn him the player of the game – that honor went to Ayayi – but it did lead to a second-half discussion about his potential and what he might mean to the Zags.
It also led to an apocryphal comment from Schatz, one that CBS’ Bill Raftery had touched on, also incorrectly, on an earlier broadcast.
“You talk about Watson,” Schatz said. “His AAU coach from sixth grade through high school was none other than John Stockton. So you know his handles are good and his scoring is catching up.”
It sounds pretty impressive, but it isn’t true.
After moving from Coeur d’Alene and playing at Gonzaga Prep, Watson did play on a Spokane-based travel basketball team coached by Stockton. But before that, his youth basketball coaches were a varied lot, including his father Deon, the former University of Idaho standout.
It’s not as sexy a story, but it has the added value of being true.