If you are writing a book about the history of Spokane, Washington, there is no doubt that Mark Few will take up a significant chunk of that book. While I was a resident of that city for just four (all too short) years, I can't imagine many individuals that have done as much for that town than Few. Under his guidance, the Gonzaga basketball program has risen to national prominence which has boosted the entire university to a different stratosphere and surely has boosted the city of Spokane as well. Personally, and I know there are thousands like me, I would never have thought to make the journey to Spokane from Denver without a love for college basketball and knowing all about "The Runner".
While Mark Few is a regional icon, it is no secret that many fans of the program have called into question how his teams perform, adjust, and react to difficult situations - particularly in March postseason play. It is extremely well documented that the Zags have never advanced past the Sweet 16 under Few and while each tournament loss is a unique story in and of itself, it has led to this program getting labeled as one that can't get it done when it matters the most.
While we can't see into the future and have no idea what March Madness holds this year, I don't think you would find many Gonzaga fans right now that lack faith in the staff or this team. February was challenging, no doubt, but over the course of the West Coast Conference tournament, we saw a staff that was focused on righting the ship and getting this team back to where it was in December and January. Last night's game against BYU was the culmination of that effort as the Zags played its first complete game in weeks and did so by executing their gameplan and not letting it get derailed.
To get a bit more context on this, it is important to look back at Gonzaga and BYU's prior game at the Kennel in which we did see BYU impose its well on Gonzaga. In that contest, Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer, and Domantas Sabonis scored just 24 points and Wiltjer really struggled as he floated along the perimeter for a large chunk of the game. BYU forced the Zags to quicken its tempo and completely had Mark Few's club out of sync offensively.
Last night, everyone in the building and watching on ESPN knew exactly what Gonzaga's intention was. Get the ball into halfcourt sets, run it through the big men, and profit immensely. Obviously, given the fact that Gonzaga won, the strategy obviously worked but it wasn't perfect. Several times, Kyle Collinsworth was able to get open looks because he had a mismatch defensively and was able to get past a bigger defender. BYU was also able to get out into transition and seemingly close the gap each time Gonzaga ran up an 8 or 9 point lead.
In the face of those run outs, however, the staff kept churning and executing its plan. No sequence made this more clear than early in the 2nd half when Przemek Karnowski virtually sent every BYU post man to the bench with 3 or 4 fouls. It was a great indication of Mark Few saying "this is what we are going to do - try and stop us". Few even sent out Sabonis and Karnowski together for several stretches in the 2nd half and gave BYU matchup nightmares. In total, the trio of Sabonis, Karnowski, and Wiltjer amassed 45 points and 20 boards and dominated the action.
While one game is tough to consider a 'trend change', it is does appear that this team is heading back to the place they were at in December which is something we haven't been able to say much of in years past. Whether or not it results in a deep tournament run remains to be seen but, damn, was that a fun game.