Coming off a ragged win against Montana on a Sunday afternoon, Gonzaga jetted north to Alaska early Tuesday morning for the prestigeous Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, looking for improvement and a chunk of quality RPI.
It was obvious that the Zags did indeed round into better form and it was mission accomplished with gaining valuable RPI.
In a nationally televised game, Gonzaga took on Big East power St. John's. The Bulldogs started slow and it appeared that this would be another ragged struggle as the Red Storm sprinted to an 11-0 lead. After catching up once, St. John's took off again, but something would change after Dan Dickau's three-pointer at the halftime buzzer and a talk in the locker room.
Down by seven to start the second half, the Zags caught the Johnnies, went ahead and never looked back, winning by a comfortable margin. Zach Gourde, Dan Dickau, Ronny Turiaf and Alex Hernandez led the way, scoring and dominating the glass.
St. John's would go on to beat Oregon State and Tennessee, only losing to Gonzaga.
The following night it was time to take on #24 Texas. The Longhorns of the Big-12 Conference were picked praseason to finish fourth in their conference, behind the likes of Kansas and Missouri. This game would be a tough test for Gonzaga.
With Zach Gourde and Cory Violette each scoring double-doubles inside, combined with a fine shooting performance from Dickau, the Zags raced off to a fast start, held leads as much as ten points.
Leading Texas by five at the half, GU withstood every challenge in the second 20 minutes, briefly relinquishing the lead, only to separate themselves again from the Horns to win by three.
This was the Zags' best performance of the young season and GU was racking up some solid RPI, not to mention showing the heart, poise and determination of a team worthy of being in the championship game.
The Zags were looking for an Alaskan sweep, ala 1997, but a buzzsaw named Marquette was in town and Gonzaga knew it. Marquette had soundly beaten a very good Tennessee Volunteers team, took a day off, then knocked off #20 Big-10 power Indiana in a gritty, gutsy performance to earn the right to face the Zags in the marquee game of this eight-team tournament.
In the third game in as many nights, Gonzaga once again got off to a solid start with Zach Gourde dominating inside. But midway though the initial half, the Golden Eagles from the Midwest would catch the Zags and lead by six at the halftime break.
Having been down by seven to St. John's at the half, GU came out confident and quickly tied it before Marquette would make a run and lead by seven and up to eleven points. Gonzaga shutdown Dywane Wade, the star of MU's team, putting all the weight on less-proven players to try and step it up.
And Wade's supporting cast did just that.
The Zags would pull within a bucket on two occasions but could not establish a perimeter game on offense. Marquette responded to each Zag rally with deadly three-pointers--shooting ten out of twenty--and some offensive boards to eventually win by nine over the Bulldogs.
So Gonzaga University took home the Runners-Up trophy by winning two and losing one. The team had spent Thanksgiving together, as one big family, and one must believe that this helped team chemistry.
Now it's back to The Kennel and home-cooking for three straight games. November 29 the Zags will welcome Arkansas-Pine Bluff. To begin December, Portland State, upset winners over Pac-10 Arizona State at Tempe, comes to Spokane on the first. Three days later, December 4th, the Eastern Washington Eagles will invade Martin Centre with visions of another upset, having already defeated Saint Joseph's, ranked #10 at the time.
Zags Hoops would like to congratulate the Bulldogs and give special kudos to Zach Gourde and Dan Dickau for earning 1st-team tournament honors.
Zags Hoops would also like to encourage Zag fans to sellout The Kennel and help Gonzaga try to achieve a three-game sweep.