By the time you read this, the Zags will have completed another sweep of overmatched foes, or ...
Something not so fun.
Gonzaga absolutely drilled North Alabama 96-51 on Friday night, but then entertained — if that’s the right word — Cal State Bakersfield on Monday evening.
The New Year’s Eve game ran too late to report here at press time, but the Roadrunners very well could have made things difficult at The Kennel.
Bakersfield has two “quality losses” on the 8-4 record it brought to Spokane — a five-point defeat to Big 12 slugger TCU and a 15-point loss to Southern Cal.
Both of those games were doggone close in the final minutes, so ...
Anyone remember North Dakota dragging the Zags into overtime last season?
At least we know that Gonzaga went into the Cal State Bakersfield game on a high.
Some of antics we saw against North Alabama were downright ridiculous.
I mean, how does ANYONE jump out to a 29-1 lead, or 47-6, or hold an opponent to 14 points in the first half?
Sounds absurd, but that’s the whuppin’ the Zags laid on North Alabama.
Even better than the score and the dominance, Gonzaga was playing with the fierceness we’ve seen since the end of “The Trip from Hell.”
Defense and rebounding were angry, and players were diving for balls in a game that couldn’t be anything but a rout.
That’s a good sign, because that sort of effort will be needed more often in the WCC than we’ve seen in the past.
When the season started, it appeared the Zags could more or less waltz into conference play with home games against supposed strugglers Santa Clara and Pacific.
We may have to give that another think,
Santa Clara, which visits the The Kennel at 6 p.m. Saturday, has improved to 8-6 on the strength of a five-game winning streak — including a 10-point win over USC and, most recently, a 79-71 victory over Wazzu down in Pullman.
OK, the Cougars were missing Robert Franks, the Pac-12’s leading scorer, and you can’t consider a victory on the Palouse quite the same as handing it to Duke — but winning on the road is difficult anywhere.
For a Santa Clara team that lost three-time all-WCC guard KJ Feagin to a season-ending injury after two games, the rebuilding process may be going faster than expected.
The Broncos figured to find some excitement in transfer guard Tahj Eaddy (41 percent on 3-pointers), but lately they’ve displayed some surprising balance.
Saturday night could be interesting, and ...
Although Gonzaga deserves to be favored in every WCC game, some look to be a lot trickier than others — San Francisco, for sure, but maybe Santa Clara belongs in that crowd.
I suspect we’ll say that about a few teams during this WCC season, since the days of Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and maybe BYU just pounding everyone else could be history — at least this year.
Several teams, including the old foes in Moraga and Provo, will make things difficult on the road, but now clubs like San Francisco, Loyola Marymount and San Diego have shown enough chops in the pre-conference to make this year a bit more testing for the Zags.
As long as everyone gets (or stays) healthy, strength in the conference is a good thing.
Since it’s so new, it probably won’t affect Gonzaga’s seeding in March — unless the Zags lose three or four times — but it will force Mark Few’s bunch to stay sharp.
That, my friends, is a very good thing.
Let’s see, when was the last time we talked about Killian Tillie and Geno Crandall?
Oh, last week.
There’s a damn good reason for that.
The Zags were excellent but slightly limited in the stretch they played without these two guys (although Crandall did appear in Maui and made an acrobatic layup against Duke).
Sitting in the lower half of the top 10 — in other words, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament — is just about an accurate ranking for the Zags without Tillie and Crandall.
But WITH them?
Team leader Josh Perkins has said it again: “When we have everybody back, we expect to be the best team in the country.”
You know, it’s possible Perkins is right — assuming that Tillie is as sharp as he was a year ago, and Crandall begins hitting the shots he canned at North Dakota.
Crandall, who is recovering from a fractured bone in his hand, is just about ready to play.
He’s been practicing with a light pad on his hand and might actually have made a cameo appearance against Cal State Bakersfield.
Tillie’s situation is different.
Recovering from a foot problem is far more precarious than worrying about your hand. Tillie had surgery for a stress fracture in his ankle in late October.
He’s been a part-time participant in practice, but going very lightly. Killian admits the ankle isn’t nearly strong enough yet, but he tells everyone who asks that it feels stronger every day.
Tillie has set the Santa Clara game for his season debut, but that might be medically unfeasible.
Few and his staff will no doubt be as cautious as possible with these guys, and especially Tillie — not just because he’s more important, but because you can monitor a hand injury a lot easier than a surgically repaired ankle.
Tillie has said he’d like to play a bit against Santa Clara and Pacific (giving him a chance to get back to making a serious impact when the Zags visit San Francisco on Jan. 12).
Few no doubt will have some tough decisions to make regarding Tillie. Sure, the San Francisco game will impact the conference race and maybe Gonzaga’s national ranking, but the possibility of somehow hurting that ankle again will be discussed at length with the medical staff.
Crandall has been running, so he can return pretty much in shape — but Tillie has been off his feet for more than two months, so it will take him time to do any full-out runing.
And needless to say, Tillie will have to get enough game time to trust his ankle with the sharp cuts required in Gonzaga’s switching defense. You can’t do all that without being close to full capacity.
My guess: Tillie might make a few 3-pointers to get people excited in these early games, but I think it will be another month before we see the French phenom at top stride.
At this point, that seems good enough.
If we’re going to be greedy, save it for March.
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Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press. He’s a former sports writer with the Denver Post and Kansas City Star and the author of 13 sports books. He’s hosted radio programs specifically on college basketball. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org