The Gonzaga University Bulldogs opened the 2002 West Coast Conference Tournament with a noon game in the University of San Diego's Jenny Craig Pavilion.
With well over one thousand Zag faithful in the stands, Gonzaga bolted to an eight point lead in the first couple of minutes with a balanced attack that originated from the inside.
Using their muscle and size, Gonzaga's Zach Gourde and Cory Violette took control of the paint and the boards, then let Kyle Bankhead and Dan Dickau take care of the outside.
Continuing to mix it up against LMU's slowdown offense, Alex Hernandez came off the bench and sparked the Zags with seven quick points and solid rebounding numbers, along with some steals, to further separate Gonzaga from LMU.
It wasn't a pretty game but in typical workman-like fashion the Zags grinded it out, fought off one last gasp Lion run in the 2nd-half before pulling out to an 18 point victory.
Violette earned a double-double and scored 16, the same point total as fellow big Zach Gourde. Dan Dickau stepped it up in the second 20 minutes and finished with 17, most of his buckets coming at critical times, as usual. Kyle Bankhead had perhaps his finest game of the year and Alex Hernandez did all the necessary dirty work in and around the basket. Kyle and Alex finished with 11 points apiece.
The entire team enjoyed playing time and a Jay Sherrell lob pass to Ronny Turiaf for a high-flying jam punctuated this 1st-round win.
Blake Stepp would not score a point against LMU.
What a difference a day makes.
Gonzaga took on the home team San Diego Toreros on USD's court and opened the game with an alley-oop jam to Anthony Reason. Dickau nailed a trey and Blake Stepp drilled another 3-ball to jump on top 8-2 in the first couple of minutes.
But there was one problem.
Gonzaga forgot to play defense and San Diego started playing their best offensive game of the year. Soon, USD caught the Zags and the two teams fought it out on even terms through most of the first half.
The referees were whistle-happy this night and both teams ran into foul trouble early. Gonzaga's big men were called for fouls time and again, and one could sense trouble coming later in the game.
Meanwhile, San Diego wasn't missing and eased out to a 7 point halftime lead in front of 1800+ Zag fans, rumored to be more than Torero fans.
Stepp and Dickau would ignite GU in the first few moments of the second half to bring the Zags back to even with San Diego. Again, the two teams battled evenly for most of the second half.
But Zach Gourde fouled out, followed shortly after by Anthony Reason. And Cory Violette and Ronny Turiaf had four fouls. Cory and Ronny would play smartly and intensely, not fouling out and racking up 25 points and 15 rebounds between them.
But it was Blake Stepp's night to shine as the sophomore guard lit up San Diego for 26 points with impressive assist and rebounding numbers as well. With 8 minutes to go Gonzaga grabbed the lead for good.
San Diego came close but could not overtake the Zags, and when Stepp bombed a 26-footer that hit nothing but net, the dagger was felt all the way down the Torero bench.
Clutch free-throws and a solid defensive turnaround for GU clinched the victory. USD would only shoot 28 percent in the final 20 minutes, compared to over 55 percent in the first 20 minutes.
As the coaches poll and the AP poll saw Gonzaga climb to #6 in the nation, the Pepperdine Waves awaited for the 2002 WCC Conference Tournament Championship in a nationally televised game on ESPN.
Ali-Frazier, Affirmed-Alydar, Lakers-Celtics, Steelers-Raiders... These rivalries had nothing on "Gonzaga-Pepperdine III," the rubber match.
The first time these two teams met Pepperdine won by 9. The second time around it was Gonzaga by 13. After sharing first place in the WCC standings, Monday's WCC Championship game at Jenny Craig Pavillion in San Diego, Calilfornia marked the teams' third meeting of the year, and this time it was for all the bragging rights.
After a few minutes of timid play from both sides, Cory Violette scored the first 4 points of the game to get things rolling, and kept his team going throughout the half. The Bulldogs worked the ball inside for baskets while the Waves hit their shots from the outside to keep the score close. The Bulldogs turned the ball over, which resulted in easy points for the Waves allowing them to keep in the game. Dan Dickau sat out the end of the half with only two points, while Violette and Gourde picked up the slack combining for 29 points to keep the Zags trailing by one point at the half.
If the first half of play was described as physical, then the second was just plain ugly. Pepperdine came out of the locker room shooting and lengthened the lead after connecting from behind the arc while the Zags couldn't hit a shot to save their life. The momentum changed however mid-half when Dan Dickau stole the show and showed everyone why he's the WCC player of the Year by rallying his teammates and scoring 27 points in the second half, a slight improvment from his 2 in the first. Gonzaga's hustle defense along with Dickau's 29, and Blake Stepp scoring 24 on the night allowed the Zags to wear the Waves down and capture the 96-90 victory along with the WCC Championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Zags Hoops congratulates Tournament MVP Dan Dickau and fellow 1st-team Zags Blake Stepp and Cory Violette, along with Zach Gourde, Anthony Reason, Alex Hernandez, Kyle Bankhead, Ronny Turiaf and everybody else. 29 wins breaks a school record.