The jet took off at 5:30am and the Zags were headed east for the first time since 1993 to make good on a promise of a return game with Monmouth University in New Jersey, then a battle against a highly regarded teams in Saint Joseph's in Philly. But Coach Mark Few, in the business of education as well as basketball, had plans for the team before the games would begin.
The day before Gonzaga took on Monmouth, the Bulldogs visited Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, the site of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, September 11. The experience was something no Zag would ever forget and it helped put the world in perspective for the team. Despite the sombering sight of massive destruction, it actually gave Gonzaga a new resolve, one that's been taught for years by Coach Few: "To live everyday to its fullest and seize the day because you never know when your time will come."
Inspiration was born out of tragedy.
Less than 36 hours later the Zags would tip off against the Monmouth Hawks in a gym that had not soldout all year until now. But it was never a contest.
The packed crowd was silenced as the Zags raced to a double-digit lead within minutes and promptly put the game out of reach at halftime. Between Dan Dickau, Kyle Bankhead and Zach Gourde, combined with Anthony Reason's incredible defense on Monmouth's star guard, the WCC team reached a 20-point lead and kept the lead between 20 and 30 points throughout the second half.
Jay Sherrell and Ronny Turiaf had highlight dunks and GU's guards started hitting from three. Anthony Reason recorded his first career double-double. It was a solid performance all-around and Monmouth only scored 54 total points.
GU would win by 25.
Cory Violette had a ravaging flu bug that put him in bed with no practices for the entire road trip. Cory's loss of weight would be evident when the Gonzaga-Saint Joseph's game hit TV in New Year's Eve.
Regardless, the Zags took the court in Alumni Fieldhouse on the campus of Atlantic-10 power Saint Joseph's, a preseason #9 pick by major polls, and would engage in what would turn out to be a hoops version of a heavyweight fight.
The Zags had something to prove to the East Coast folks while Saint Joseph's Hawks had fury in their eyes after a couple of disturbing losses.
A wild, jam-packed, standing room only crowd watched the Hawks and Bulldogs trade leads over a dozen times. Punch and counter-punch. Saint Joe's would take a five point lead but GU would battle back. Dickau and backcourt mate Blake Stepp would start hitting treys, but Saint Joe's always answered.
The Hawks edged the Zags in the first 20 minutes by 2 points. 42-40.
Both teams would come out swinging in the final half with Gonzaga draining treys and working it inside to Zach Gourde, Cory Violette, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Reason (who was doing another awesome defensive job on All-American Marvin O'Connor).
Gonzaga pulled out to a 6 point lead only to watch Saint Joseph's scratch and claw back in it with three-pointers and driving inside baskets.
Dan Dickau was playing his best game of the year and Blake Stepp was complementing him by pouring in crucial treys and playing sound D. Kyle Bankhead stepped in for the third game in a row and buried some nice shots from mid-range to beyond the arc. GU's bigs were fighting hard with Gourde leading the way and Cory gutting it out with Turiaf filling in nicely.
With the Hawks from Philly leading 80-78, Dickau would tie it with a baseline floater. The Zags would stop the Hawks on the next possession and 35 seconds remained. Head Coach Mark Few opted not to risk a timeout, instead letting his team continue in its rhythm.
Dickau would buy time on the right wing against Saint Joseph's best defender, and with five seconds remaining, the score tied at 80 and the hostile crowd going nuts, Gonzaga's Wooden Award Candidate cross-over dribbled toward the baseline to create just enough space to elevate...
...And bury the game-winning trifecta from 25 feet out. With 3.6 seconds remaining, Saint Joseph's was relegated to a desperation shot and the Zags from the West would walk away with a clean sweep of their East Coast opponents.
Now Gonzaga will rest, heal up, reflect on their Ground Zero experience and savor two fine victories. But in one week on ESPN they'll be asked to duplicate their East Coast effort as GU travels to New Mexico to take on the Lobos in The Pit.
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