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GONZAGA UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Dale Goodwin, Director
Peter Tormey, Associate Director
|Tracking the Zags No. 11: Arrival in Oakland|
By Peter Tormey
OAKLAND, Calif. -- We're not in Spokane anymore, Toto.
Strolling past the stately Oakland City Hall building and on through its Chinatown district, solidly established here by the 1870s, I see roasted ducks hanging in a window and feel my feet begin tapping to the tunes of Marvin Gaye from someone sitting in a second-floor window listening to a boom box. As the open-air grocers tend their vegetables, the Chinese herbalists mix medicinal concoctions and a bin full of dried lizards of some ilk await inspection. A block away a sausage-maker slaps a few pounds of his finest on the scale to the delight of his customer, and at another counter a butcher prepares real African delicacies. Around the corner is the Black Muslim barber in this almost surreal atmosphere, where a personal business touch and police officers on foot patrol harkens back to an earlier era. And there seems to be more diversity in one square block of downtown Oakland than in the whole of Spokane.
The California Legislature approved incorporation of the town of Oakland on May 4, 1852 for this hamlet of 75 that had been called Contra Costa. Not long after that, the federal government dredged a shipping channel and built wharves - giving Oakland its own independent identity.
This city has a colorful past. In 1936 the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, one of the engineering wonders of the world at the time, opened months before the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1937 Amelia Earhart began her around-the-world flight from the Oakland Municipal Airport - never to be seen again.
But it's basketball that has brought Bulldogs' fans and families here from distances far and near and it's basketball that will cause Zags fans to descend upon the Oakland Arena tomorrow (Thursday). Basketball may even have spurred an eleventh-hour road-trip or two that began on the Gonzaga University campus. After all this is the Oakland Regional of the 2006 men's NCAA Tournament - where four teams, one-fourth of the so-called Sweet 16, will fight with all their might to stay alive on the Road to the Final Four that culminates in Indianapolis. But only one of these four teams - No. 13 seed Bradley, No. 2 seed UCLA, No. 3 seed Gonzaga and No. 1 seed Memphis - will advance.
The NCAA Tournament banners are stretched from vintage light post to light post as the city tries to put its best forward for those fortunate enough to get tickets to Thursday's game at the Oakland Arena. Tip-off is at 6:57 p.m., or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Memphis-Bradley contest that begins at 4:27 p.m.
Oakland is one of four U.S. centers of the universe this month as millions will descend upon the city and tune in to watch the Zags battle the Bruins from the University of California at Los Angeles. In the world of basketball, the letters UCLA still carry plenty of weight and respect. It was there, after all, that legendary Bruin Coach John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, won 10 national championships, including a mind-boggling seven in a row (1966-73) and ran the table four times with perfect 30-0 seasons (1963-64, 1966-67, 1971-72, 1972-73). Wooden has always been and perhaps always will be the gold standard for college basketball coaches. Things are different now and Wooden's kind of dominate influence may not be possible again.
What a stage this March Madness phenomenon presents. CBS Sports estimates last year's NCAA basketball championships had a total audience of 141.7 million people.
But it's not a Wooden-coached team that the Zags will face on Thursday. This UCLA team is coached by Ben Howland, who with this year's Bruins, has led three different schools to the NCAA Tournament - Northern Arizona and two Pittsburgh teams before the 2006 Bruins. He began at UCLA in 2003. His Bruins are 29-3 overall, 14-4 in Pacific-10 Conference play, and won both the Pac-10 regular season (14-4) and the Pac-10 Conference Tournament titles.
For his part, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few has shown time and again what a great coach he is. Few ranks first for wins (188) by a seventh-year NCAA Division I coach. Few remains the winningest active coach in the NCAA Division I ranks by percentage with a 188-40 record for a winning percentage of .825. He has won at least 20 games every season as a head coach.
In a teleconference Monday afternoon, Few said the toughest thing about facing UCLA is how they "milk the clock" on offense and take good shots while playing hard-nosed defense that presents problems.
"They are hard to score on," Few said, adding the Bruins use a variety of defensive sets with great athletes who buy into the system Howland is constructing at UCLA. On offense, he said, the Bruins takes high-percentage shots and it's showing in their win-loss record.
Among the keys to the game, he said, will be the Zags' ability to make Bruins' sophomore guards Jordan Farmer and Aaron Alflalo take difficult shots. The 6-foot-2 Farmer is averaging 13.6 points and 5.2 assists a game while the 6-foot-5 Alflalo is averaging 16.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Sean Mallon's career game last Saturday against Indiana that helped catapult the Zags into this third round of the tournament underscores the fact that the Zags are more than a one-trick or two-trick pony. As Few pointed, the Bulldogs have more weapons than the considerable arsenal brought by star forward Adam Morrison and forward-center J.P. Batista.
"We've been saying this all along," he said. "There is more to this team than Adam and J.P. and they showed it."
Six Zags had double-figure scoring against Indiana on Saturday - with Batista leading with 20 points, followed by Mallon's 15 points, then Morrison with 14, Raivio with 13 and Erroll Knight with 11, and freshman Jeremy Pargo with 10.
Few will talk more about his view of the Bruins this afternoon when the Bulldogs practice at the Oakland Arena from 1-1:50 p.m. before answering reporters' questions again from 2-2:30 p.m.
During the NCAA Tournament, Few said one of the most important things is to get his players to play with as much confidence as possible. Their confidence was evident Saturday and will be critical tomorrow against UCLA.
Next up: Sights and Sounds at Oakland Arena; what the Zags have to say today; and the alumni events happening down here. An NCAA Tournament photo gallery has been created on the Web for Tracking the Zags at www.gonzaga.edu/News+and+Events/Tracking+The+Zags/default.asp and Oakland pictures will be added soon.