Root for the Zags, Cougar fans

CHRIS ARNESON | Evergreen columnist

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The Gonzaga Bulldogs are a staple of March Madness and basketball on the Palouse.

Nineteen consecutive NCAA Tournament bids put this 5,000-student Jesuit school on the national radar and drew attention to basketball in Eastern Washington, which includes the WSU men’s basketball program.

Zags Head Coach Mark Few has led the Bulldogs to 500 wins in his tenure and won 82 percent of his games, making him the winningest active coach in D1 basketball.

As March Madness fever is at its boiling point in Pullman and across the country with Sweet 16 action starting tonight, expectations have never been higher for Gonzaga and its 32-1 overall record. Likewise, there has never been a more fervent desire from WSU students to see their Eastern Washington rivals fall in the tournament’s grandest stage.

Cougar basketball fans should root for this Gonzaga team because it represents basketball being played at its finest in the Northwest.

UW transfer Nigel Williams-Goss runs the show at point guard, averaging 17 points, six rebounds and five assists per game and provides Cougs with an anti-husky figure to rally behind

The Zags are also dangerous on the block, as their seven-foot center Przemek Karnowski roams the paint, posting 12 points per game at a ridiculous 60 percent shooting clip. Karnowski is like many members of the WSU women’s basketball team, venturing overseas to the Palouse and building his basketball future in this vibrant hoops community.

If Karnowski finds himself in foul trouble tonight against fourth-seeded West Virginia, forwards Killian Tillie and Zach Collins can pick up the slack, as they provide the Bulldogs with the deepest frontcourt of the remaining teams in the big Dance and make them increasingly hard to bet against in the later rounds. Collins’ play was critical in the Bulldogs’ second-round victory over the Northwestern on Sunday, as he tallied 14 points, five rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes off the bench.

Gonzaga has also gotten a great deal of production this year from a couple of transfer students in senior guard Jordan Mathews and junior forward Johnathan Williams.

Mathews spreads the floor with his outside shooting prowess, converting on 39 percent of his attempts from deep, while Williams averages an efficient seven rebounds in 24 minutes played per game. The two transfers provide reason to believe that the Zags run will not again end in the third round of the tournament, as their ability to maintain possession of the ball can combat “Press Virginia’s” tenacious, full-court defense.

Tonight’s game presents an intriguing battle of styles, as the Zags take their up-tempo offense, comparable to WSU’s style of play, and match it up against the Mountaineers’ suffocating full-court press.

Fans of WSU basketball ought to cheer on Gonzaga when they face off against West Virginia, because it’s all that remains in representing this geographic region in postseason hoops.