West Coast Conference Past, Future On Display Saturday
By Matt Breach
SPOKANE, Wash. - In an apparent distortion of time, the past and future of West Coast Conference basketball made a peculiar appearance at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday. It must have hitched a ride with Marty McFly in his DeLorean.
After a sluggish start, 12th-ranked Gonzaga shifted in to warp speed and flew past Pacific 85-67. A capacity crowd filled the McCarthey Athletic Center to watch this tussle between future conference foes.
"That was a really good win for us," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That's a really well-coached basketball team that plays very physical."
The victory pushes Gonzaga's record to 8-0. That matches the best start to a season for the Bulldogs since they began playing at the Division I level in 1958. They also won their first eight games to begin the 1994-95 campaign before suffering a one-point loss to Wichita State in overtime.
"Obviously we think we have something special here," said Sam Dower, who paced the Zags with a game-high 18 points and nine rebounds. "But we still got things to work on. We're not just going settle for 8-0, we want to make it 9-0 and 10-0 and so forth."
Saturday marked the fourth meeting between Gonzaga and Pacific. But it was the first since 1976, when the Tigers from Stockton, Calif., claimed their only win in the series. The schools also played the year before and in Gonzaga's inaugural season at college basketball's highest level.
Beginning next season, the schools will meet on a more regular basis. The Tigers are leaving the Big West for the West Coast Conference, of which they were an original member when the conference was formed in 1952. Back then, the league was known as the California Basketball Association and also included Saint Mary's, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Jose State.
Pacific bailed on the conference in 1971 in an effort to support its football program, which was ultimately dropped after the 1995 season. Gonzaga joined the league, then known as the West Coast Athletic Conference, in 1979.
The Tigers were trying to knock off a WCC giant for the second time this season. They beat Saint Mary's by 10 at home just nine days ago. The Bulldogs, however, were less than compliant.
After trailing by eight early in the first half, the Zags furnished a 14-2 spurt to claim the lead. The salvo was sparked by Bulldogs' frontline, which dominated the shorter Tigers. Dower, Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris combined for 50 points and 21 rebounds.
"I thought our bigs played really good tonight," Few said. "They were efficient and they were tough and they finished plays."
Saturday's victory, the 350th of Few's 14-year coaching career, provided Pacific a glimpse of what life in the WCC might be like. At the very least, the Tigers know stealing wins in Spokane is no easy task. The Zags are 110-7 in the Kennel since it opened in 2004.
"We want to strive for the best," said GU sophomore Kevin Pangos, who chipped in 12 points against the Tigers. "We want to make statements that we're a team to be reckoned with in the whole country."
Just in case anyone from Pacific was wondering, playing at the McCarthey Athletic Center does not get any easier during conference play. The Bulldogs have lost just twice in 58 games against WCC foes.
The student section hammered that point home by chanting, "This is our house," over and over in the waning minutes of Saturday's game. Soon enough, Pacific will also discover the conference they left long ago pretty much belongs to Gonzaga as well.
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