It all started innocently. Gonzaga, finally back home in the friendly confines of The Kennel after a grueling three-game road trip, opened WCC play with the Santa Clara Broncos.
With the student body still gone on semester break, the Zags played before a packed house that lacked its usual high-energy fervor. And Santa Clara came to play some serious ball.
Behind the outside shooting of Dan Dickau and the inside trio of Zach Gourde, Cory Violette and Ronny Turiaf, Gonzaga fought for a double-digit haltime lead. But GU looked flat and one sensed the game was far from over.
The Broncos always give Gonzaga fits, no matter what.
Dickau's driving floater at the halftime buzzer capped a good first half. But the Broncos had a game plan of packing in the middle to take away the Zags' rebounding edge and it paid off in the second half as SCU made a furious run.
Sharpshooting Ross was greenlighted to shoot and he quickly found the touch, torching the basket from beyond the arc. Bailey was also solid for the Bay Area team.
It became a one-point game midway through the second half and Gonzaga would have to dig deep to grind this one out. A team effort that saw Violette drain two treys and Dickau be money once again from the free-throw line kept Santa Clara at bay. Zach Gourde and Anthony Reason played steadily as the sudden one-man team of Ross kept firing treys.
Gonzaga would win by two. 83-81. It was not a "pretty" win and Coach Mark Few knew that if his team didn't play better against San Diego, it could be trouble.
The Zags responded and played better against San Diego. Zach Gourde took control inside with 20 points while Cory Violette had 13, including another trey on his only attempt. Dickau hit an amazing three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to send GU into the locker room up by 17.
The students were still missing, save for a couple hundred, and the Toreros would mount a second half comeback, a mirror image of what Santa Clara did just two days earlier.
But unlike the first game, Gonzaga was playing decently. The shots simply weren't falling and all of the breaks were falling San Diego's way. It was just a matter of time before the odds (and momentum) would swing back to Gonzaga.
The Southern California team, like Santa Clara, would pull close to Gonzaga but never head them. And when the determined run was finished, GU eased away for a 13-point win on Dickau's perfect free-throw shooting and stepping up on defense. Blake Stepp would play smartly and score from the field and charity line as well down the stretch.
San Diego would shoot 39% from the field and no better from three-point land while Gonzaga hit 51%. And unlike the first game, where GU lost the rebounding battle, Gonzaga would win this battle with Gourde leading the way, followed by Violette, Reason, Turiaf and Alex Hernandez.
So, the Zags opened the WCC season with two wins and will meet Pepperdine next Friday which also is 2-0 in conference.
Future Zags Sean Mallon and David Pendergraft were on hand for the San Diego game, along with former Zag greats Jim and Bryce McPhee, Ryan Floyd and others.
Lastly, but most importantly, Zags Hoops would like to give best wishes and prayers to Father Tony as he battles leukemia. We'd like to see him take his place at the end of the bench just as soon as possible. Get well, Father Tony!