When Blake Stepp hit his first three-point attempt to put the Zags up 3-2 one had the feeling it was going to be a good night for Gonzaga as they squared off against Fresno State in a Battle of the Bulldogs played in the famed Fabulous Forum just outside Los Angeles.
It was the first game of the Fab Four Challenge, a doubleheader that boasted Gonzaga and fellow WCC power Pepperdine. The Waves would go on to beat USC by a point in dramatic fashion to make it a clean WCC sweep.
Before a Fox Sports Net Television audience, Gonzaga and Fresno State played evenly through the first half. GU was doing a fine job of disecting Jerry Tarkanian's infamous amoeba zone defense by hitting the necessary trey between repeated feeds down low to big men Zach Gourde and Cory Violette. Meanwhile, FSU's star big man Melvin Ely was looking like NBA material with turnaround jumpers from the baseline and sweeping hooks in the lane. Combined with some sharp shooting of their own, Fresno would lead at the half by a point. 41-40.
With John Stockton looking on from behind the Gonzaga bench, his summertime sparring partner Dan Dickau began hitting threes and dishing assists inside where GU's bigs put the ball home on a regular basis. Dickau ran the floor masterfully and shifted gears to shooting guard when Winston Brooks entered, never stopped moving and losing Fresno defenders for open shots from the corners.
When the Bulldogs of Fresno State missed, odds were Cory, Zach or Anthony Reason were there for the rebound, and the same trio gave the Zags two and three tries on the offensive end. Tarkanian would later describe the rebounding effort as, "God, it was incredible."
Zach and Cory would register double-doubles, Cory with an amazing twenty rebounds.
A key moment came when scorer Chris Jeffries came in with four fouls. Dickau took the dribble right at him at mid-court and quickly sent Fresno's second-leading scorer to the bench for good.
Showing a tenacity that first emerged in Anchorage at the Great Alaskan Shootout and later in a come-from-behind war with Eastern Washington, Gonzaga fought from seven points down to grab the lead on an Alex Hernandez three with several minutes to go. After a jam by Gourde and an inbound dunk by Violette, Gonzaga never looked back and eased away as Stepp and Dickau were money from the charity stripe.
Gonzaga would win by ten over #16 Fresno State, a team that has handily defeated Michigan State and USC thus far.
The Zags fly back to Spokane where they'll hit the books, rest and prepare for the University of Washington Huskies on December 11 at Hec Edmondson Pavilion.
UW head coach Bob Bender has his most athletic team ever in Seattle after an infusion of young talent over the last two years. Wing Guard Doug Wrenn leads the Dawgs, along with point guard Curtis Allen. David Dixon is huge inside and is a force on the glass but also can score. Errol Knight and Grant Leep are two explosive athletes who can shoot long-range or slash to the basket on any given trip downcourt.
The Huskies have been winning and it'll be a full arena to welcome Gonzaga. The big bullseye will be squarely on the Zags as Gonzaga has won the last few meetings.
Wooden Award Candidate Dan Dickau will be making his first appearance against his former school where he played as a freshman and sophomore before transfering to Gonzaga. Last year Dan was forced to sit out due to a broken finger.
Zags Hoops would like to encourage all Seattle area Zags to attend the GU-UW game. It promises to be one of the best of the season.
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