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THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Zags may indeed win it all, but let's enjoy the journey first

| December 20, 2020 1:25 AM

Sloppiness and fatigue.

Coach Mark Few admitted that he feared those two issues would trouble his Zags after nearly two weeks with no organized practices.

The worries were justified.

Gonzaga turned the ball over 18 times — sometimes handling the thing like a live grenade — and looked weary near the finish line.

“We were gassed,” Few said.


Taking those troubles into consideration, what does it say about the top-ranked Zags that they totally hammered No. 3 Iowa 99-88 Saturday morning — in a game that was never really close.

You got the feeling that, if they’d been fit and playing a little more crisply, Gonzaga could have simply waxed a team featuring Luka Garza, the near-certain national player of the year.

Again, though, there’s a however…

Watching Few’s thoroughbreds almost run Iowa right out of Sioux Falls, it’s pretty clear there is a problem among the Zag Nation.

SEEING this team open the season with four quality wins, including three against ranked opponents (two of them in the top five), Zags fans are convinced.

This will be the year of that elusive national championship.

Anything short of “One Shining Moment” will be a huge disappointment.

Folks, I’ve got to tell you that’s a ridiculously high bar, and it kind of defeats the enjoyment of the season.

This is a time when that old coaching cliché really applies.

Let’s take these games one at a time.

Yeah, beating the likes Kansas and Iowa fairly handily suggests that the Zags can beat pretty much anyone.


Simply assuming that these guys are just going to run the table right the regular season and then the NCAA tournament is overdoing it.

The feat in question hasn’t happened with a preseason No. 1 since 1976, so everyone needs to calm down just a teeny bit.

Few sets a list of goals for each season, and right at the top of the chart, it says: “Have fun!”

And they do.

“These guys love being out there together, and they’re really competitive,” the coach said after the Iowa game.

“It was really hard (playing well after the long layoff), but I was counting on that competitiveness.”

Freshman star Jalen Suggs, who knocked down seven 3-pointers — including a fall-away dagger with just over two minutes remaining to finish the Hawkeyes for good — insists that Zags’ togetherness is a big reason they win.

“We don’t care who scores, we’re just playing for each other and enjoying it,” he said.

Suggs’ 27 points and uncanny control of the game didn’t shock Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery.

“He could have been an NBA lottery pick coming out of high school,” McCaffery said.

DESPITE the fact that I’m preaching here, and hoping fans will enjoy the journey to March (with no more Covid interruptions), there’s no question what these Zags may be capable of achieving.

They absorbed Garza’s 30 points and 10 rebounds, and still beat Iowa 49-37 on the boards — principally because the uncanny Joel Ayayi grabbed 18 by himself.

“They doubled Luka, and still got out to contest our shooters really well,” said Joe Wieskamp, who netted 20 points for the Hawkeyes.


Here you go…

Iowa, which was averaging 12 3-pointers per game — admittedly against weak opposition — went 4 of 22 from deep with the Zags scurrying out the hassle them.

PERHAPS an even more encouraging sign from this game, along with overcoming the turnovers and late exhaustion, was that Gonzaga got below-average contributions from Corey Kispert and Drew Timme.

Both fouled out after trying to deal with the bruising Garza around the basket.

Thus, the Zags finished with a lineup of Anton Watson, Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Cook, Suggs and the relentless Ayayi.

That’s not a reliable foul-shooting group (Gonzaga was 14 of 24), but the Zags made just enough that the game was never in doubt.

Beating Iowa so convincingly will only solidify the Zags’ No. 1 ranking, and national title talk will get even louder.

Fair enough.

If we’d seen these guys play No. 2 Baylor and survive, the fact that they are the Vegas favorites to win it all would feel even more logical.

But look, that’s way, way, way down the road.

For now, let’s just go with Few’s top goal for season, why don’t we?

Have fun!


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published each Tuesday.