It wasn't even close. In fact, it was a blowout that saw every Gonzaga player score. But it was perhaps the most enjoyable game to watch in terms of highlights and how intense GU kept their effort throughout.
It would also be a costly win that would cause an anxious, sleepless night for coaches. Cory Violette and Ronny Turiaf both sprained their ankles and possibly worse, but X-Rays wouldn't be taken until the following day.
The Zags and Portland Pilots tipped it off in front of yet another jam-packed Kennel crowd. Zach Gourde would hit for a layup and Gonzaga would hold a slim edge until the flood gates opened after some spectacular alley-oop dunks, first from Blake Stepp to Ronny Turiaf, then from Blake to Anthony Reason. These plays brought the house down and Gonzaga had Portland on its heels.
The first half ended with a substantial lead for GU. Anthony was playing his best game of the year, blocking shots, scoring, rebounding, defending, stealing, running the floor like a sprinter... He was everywhere.
With floor general Dan Dickau feeling down with the flu, Stepp took over the point and gave Zag fans a preview of the future as he executed the offense nicely.
The second half saw Gonzaga keep up the heat and the lead gradually hit 20, then 30, then 40. It was a total team effort and just might've been Gonzaga's best game of the year.
But Violette would roll his ankle and have to head straight to the locker room with trainer Steve DeLong. Minutes later, Turiaf would sprain his ankle and be carried off. Suddenly the perfect game had become bittersweet and the entire Kennel was wondering about the health of these two post players.
The final buzzer saw a 102-67 score with Germayne Forbes, Jay Sherrell, Kyle Bankhead and Brian Michaelson all contributing off the bench.
The following day was a good news day. Cory and Ronny did not have broken ankles. Violette had a bad sprain while Turiaf's sprain was somewhat more mild. They would be fine. Just to show how big of news this was and how far the Zags have come in national recognition, the good news ran on the "Bottom Line" of ESPN2 all day and made ESPN.com's Andy Katz's "Daily Word."
Three days later, GU would invade Chiles Center in Portland for a rematch against a hungry, revenge-minded group of UP Pilots.
There was surprising news at game time. Cory Violette, while not 100%, would start. Ronny Turiaf would sit this game out. Chiles Center was soldout and almost half of the crowd were Zag fans, including a large contingent from the Kennel Club in bright red shirts.
Dan Dickau would once again prove just why he is an All-American and Wooden Award Finalist by jumpstarting the Zags with quick, early three-pointers. Meanwhile, Zach Gourde and Cory were playing solidly inside. But the Pilots were at home and their shooting was better than it was in The Kennel. After jumping to a double-digit lead, the Zags watched Portland climb back into it and, on the final shot before halftime, Casey Frandsen would hit a trey to put Portland up by 2 at intermission.
This would not be easy.
Portland opened a 5 point lead in the first few minutes of the second half, but Dickau started hitting from outside while a newly-determined Alex Hernandez began grabbing rebounds and scoring. Kyle Bankhead and Blake Stepp hit threes and Anthony Reason added his usual energy, defense and emotion on offense.
Bankhead continued to show a newly-found dimension in his game and hit a pretty fall-away jumper in the lane.
Pilot fans would taunt Dan Dickau with chants of "over-rated" but when he walked off the floor, the senior guard had 39 points and 7 assists. The Pilot fans were quiet.
Gonzaga would run away from Portland and lead by 17 until a last second trey by Frandsen cut the margin to 14 for the final score of 94-80. Dickau's feed to Hernandez cutting baseline to the basket for a layup was a highlight, as were Zach's and Anthony's slam dunks near the end to punctuate Gonzaga's 20th win of the season.
Zags Hoops would like to congratulate Dan Dickau on a stellar performance, Cory Violette for a gutsy effort, Zach Gourde for yeoman work inside, Anthony Reason for his inspiration play, Blake and Kyle for intelligent games and Alex Hernandez for showing how for real he can be. Also, many kudos to all the Zag fans who helped turn Portland's Chiles Center into Gonzaga's homecourt.
A perilous and always-challenging road trip to Santa Clara and San Diego is next for GU. Coach Bill Grier has likened it to the Zags' east coast trip to Monmouth and St. Joseph's.