By Matt Breach
Special to GoZags.com
SPOKANE, Wash. - Heading into his squad's first significant test of the season, Gonzaga coach Mark Few knew exactly what to expect.
"If there's one thing (Bob Huggins') teams are," he said, "they're tough and nasty."
The question, then, remained: was Few's club tougher and nastier? The answer, as it turns out, was a resounding yes.
Gonzaga thumped West Virginia 84-50 on Monday night in front of a raucous, capacity crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
"It was a great performance by our guys," Few said. "... Our guys fought and battled. That's a really, really physical and athletic team that plays extremely hard and I thought we handled that."
The game kicked off ESPN's basketball marathon, a holiday-like feast featuring 11 games in 24 hours. And any team participating in this hoops exhibition will be hard pressed to match the show put on by the Bulldogs.
"It's nice playing on ESPN," said sophomore Kevin Pangos, one of five Zags to score in double figures. "We love those games and that's one of the reasons people come to Gonzaga, to play on national television."
Monday's clash was a rematch from last season, when the Zags, now 2-0, thrashed the Mountaineers in the second round of the NCAA tournament. And even though West Virginia has revamped its roster since that 33-point beating, the Zags knew one thing for sure: the Mountaineers would test them physically.
"They're a tough team," GU senior Mike Hart said. "We knew they were going to come in here and play tough and play physical. We matched that tonight."
Truth be told, the Bulldogs actually exceeded it. They bumped and banged with West Virginia from the start. By the end, they had worn down the Mountaineers in every conceivable way.
The Bulldogs outrebounded WVU 38-36. They forced 20 turnovers, resulting in 25 points. They also smothered the Mountaineers defensively, holding them to 27-percent shooting, including a 3-for-26 clip from behind the arc.
"You saw it on the scoreboard," Pangos said. "We just wanted to come out like every other game, with high intensity and get a big win. We proved it on the court tonight."
Perhaps that's because the Bulldogs have been proving it in practice as well.
"We knew it was going to be very physical," said Gary Bell Jr., who led Gonzaga with 15 points. "Coach Few prepped us for that in practice. Our practices have been way more physical than an actual game."
The Bulldogs were at their best in the opening half, when they utilized a combination of man and zone defenses to hold West Virginia without a field goal for more than seven minutes. The Mountaineers finished the half with just 18 points, the fewest points allowed by the Zags since February of 2011, when they limited San Diego to 19 and 12 points, respectively, in two halves of a blowout victory.
"The defense was really good today," Few said. "The zone was good and the man was good. We executed the gameplan the way we wanted to."
The Zags also left no doubt that they are just as tough and nasty as any team.