When it comes to men’s basketball, Gonzaga and Washington State aren’t exactly bitter rivals. Sure, they share the same state–in fact, WSU’s Riverpoint campus is just across the Spokane River from GU–though they play in different conferences, and don’t always meet on the court. But when they do, sometimes magic happens. One doesn’t have to look any farther than last year, in fact, when a star was born late one November night.
Playing in just his second NCAA collegiate game (third if you count preseason), Kevin Pangos lit up the McCarthey Athletic Center for a team-record nine three-pointers en route to an 89-81 win. It was a nationally-televised coming-out party for the freshman point guard who calls Newmarket, Ontario home, setting the tone for a 27-7 season in which he’d average 13.6 points and 3.4 assists per game in being named the WCC Newcomer of the Year, All-WCC first team, WCC All-Freshman team and to the WCC All-Tournament team. Now a sophomore, Pangos leads the way for an 8-0 Gonzaga team currently ranked 10th in the country some 80 miles south to Pullman to face a State squad that’s undefeated (5-0) at home and only scores 64 points per game while holding opponents under 58. It would appear that another shootout isn’t in the cards, anyways.
That said, I think we could be in for another breakout performance tonight, from another Canadian kid, no less. Kelly Olynyk, a seven-foot centre from Kamloops, BC, had a rather unspectacular college career coming into this year. Averaging about 15 minutes and five points per game over his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was a healthy redshirt last year while North Vancouver’s own Rob Sacre patrolled the paint. But sitting the season out clearly gave Olynyk time to work on his game; though he sat out Gonzaga’s first three contests this year, he’s more than doubled his scoring average to 12.2 ppg since his return to the lineup, while grabbing seven boards a game and shooting an impressive 62.5 per cent from the floor. In going from waterboy to starting big-man, this late bloomer is about to put Canadian basketball back on the map–he already put up 8.2 points per game with the national team at the 2010 world championships.
And although this game is only on ESPNU, a premium cable network, I think Olynyk could make his mark on the NCAA tonight. Coming off his best game of the season, a 15-point, eight-rebound effort in just 18 minutes against Pacific, the seven-footer impressed with some deft moves in the paint and a soft touch around the rim. He’ll need to elevate his game again as he goes up against Wazzu’s best player, Brock Motum, a 6’10″ Australian who’s averaged nearly 19 ppg this season, leading the team by a long shot. A tough test for the first-year starter, but I think he’s up for it. After all, the kid played quarterback in high school–says so right here…
Now, I have a confession to make. As great as Pangos’ 33-point performance was last year, I didn’t actually see any of it. The game tipped off after midnight on the East Coast on a Monday night, and I was already in bed. This time it’s only a bit earlier, with an 11 pm tip, but I’ll stay up to watch the first half, at least. Hey, if Olynyk’s got 20 points by halftime, I might hafta stay awake for the whole thing. I wouldn’t wanna miss Canadian basketball history in the making, twice!
GO GONZAGA! G-O-N-Z-A-G-A!
UPDATE 12/6: Good thing I didn’t go to bed at halftime. After a scoreless first half, Olynyk erupted for 22 points in the second, scoring several big buckets in crunchtime. Pangos’ shot wasn’t falling all night, but he was clutch when it counted, hitting a running bank shot with 2.2 left as Gonzaga pulled out a 71-69 win. This team’s gonna be fun to watch this year, methinks…