Zag Women, Men Advance to Title Games Today; Fans Find Fun
By Dale Goodwin
LAS VEGAS (Monday, March 9) – It used to be that Las Vegas was considered an adult destination. It’s not exclusive anymore. There’s plenty for the kids, from the dancing Water Follies at the Bellagio, and the pirate show at Treasure Island, to amusement rides at New York New York and the Stratosphere, and an erupting volcano at the Mirage.
Turns out that many of the Gonzaga University fans here for the West Coast Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament made the trip a family affair. More on this later.
Austin Daye blistered Santa Clara with a career-high 28 points, including this emphatic dunk. Photo by Mark Muelheim.
First, the top-seeded Gonzaga men defeated Santa Clara 94-59 in the first semifinal Sunday night to advance to the Zags’ 12th straight WCC Tournament title game. They will play Saint Mary’s today (Monday) at 6 p.m. (ESPN). Austin Daye led GU with 28 points, followed by Micah Downs with 18, Jeremy Pargo 16, Steven Gray 12 and Matt Bouldin 11.
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few, responding to a question about the new tournament site at The Orleans Arena here, said: “Bringing the tournament here on a neutral site is probably the best thing the conference has ever done. They’ve done a great job of promoting the event. Best of all, it’s fair (for all eight teams).”
Meanwhile, the top-seeded Gonzaga women (25-6) opened the WCC Tournament run at noon Sunday with a 74-63 win over Loyola Marymount before 1,803 fans, 90 percent of them cheering for the Zags. Gonzaga will play 6th-seeded San Diego (19-12) at noon today (Monday) for the championship on ESPNU (not ESPN2 as was reported), the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. San Diego defeated No. 2 seed Portland today, 74-64 to set up a a matchup between the same two teams that played for last year’s WCC tournament title in San Diego.
When asked what he thought about playing in Las Vegas, Gonzaga women’s Coach Kelly Graves asked, “We’re in Las Vegas? It felt like Spokane South out there. We lost an hour to daylight savings time, and we still had a huge Gonzaga crowd out there. It was like a breakfast game and they still came out. It was a great crowd.”
At halftime of Sunday night’s Gonzaga men’s semifinal game, the WCC presented
Zag alumnus Frank Burgess was inducted into the inaugural class of the WCC Hall of Fame. Photo by Mark Muelheim.
its inaugural class into the WCC Hall of Fame. Included among the initial class, which included one man from every current conference school, is Gonzaga’s Frank Burgess, who was the nation’s leading scorer in 1961, remains GU’s career leader in scoring, and is one of only two players in Gonzaga basketball history to have his number (44) retired. The other is John Stockton (12).
BACK TO THE FAMILY CULTURE HERE Bill Quigg played basketball for the Zags in the late 1960s, and he and wife Carol brought their grown children and three grandchildren with them. Neice Shafer, who graduated in the early 70s, made the WCC tournaments a good excuse to visit family in the area.
And for Pam and Ron Soliday (former Washington State B basketball whiz for Reardan), this was a chance to meet up with family and friends. They are in a group of 12, which includes daughter Cheri (a 1994 GU grad) and her husband Blaze Burnham, who starred on three St. John Eagle basketball teams in the Washington State B High School Tournament back in 1986-88, and has earned his master’s in nursing at GU as a nurse practitioner and is working on his doctorate in leadership studies, also at Gonzaga.
“Hey, this is great,” Blaze said. “We can get a ticket (referring to the always-sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga), there’s not a bad seat in the house and there’s a lot of hotel rooms in this city. I remember when I played at Walla Walla Community College we’d come up to see a Zag game from time to time, and we could walk up night of the game and get tickets. It’s been great fun experiencing the before-and-after of Gonzaga basketball.”
Zag alumnus Ronnie Turiaf, who now plays in the NBA, was in the stands Sunday rooting the Zags to victory over Santa Clara. Photo by Mark Muelheim.
His mother-in-law Pam, a Gonzaga season-ticket-holder, is having the time of her life here. “We’re here with a big group and we’ve gambled and saw one of the greatest shows ever – the Jersey Boys at the Palazza. It’s the story of Frankie Valli.”
“I’ve never seen a better Broadway Show,” said Larry Daly, whose son Joe graduated from Gonzaga in 1998 with a degree in finance, “and he’s actually working in finance,” Larry said quite proudly.
Friend Lorri Anderson chimed in: “We went last night to 5 Degrees, an ice bar at Mandalay Bay.”
"What’s an ice bar?" I asked.
“The temperature in there is 5 degrees. They give you a heavy coat when you walk in. The seats are made of ice and the cups are made of New Zealand ice, specially shipped in. There are all kinds of ice sculptures.”
“It was like riding on a snowmobile without any wind,” Pam Soliday added.
“This is a great place to hold the tournament,” Ron Soliday said. “There’s so many darn things to do here. “
Gonzaga President Father Robert Spitzer noted the smiles on everyone’s faces Sunday morning as he said Mass for an estimated 400 alumni and friends in a standing-room-only facility at The Orleans Hotel. The Alumni Association had planned for 200.
“It appears there’s a lot of you who need redemption this morning,” Fr. Spitzer quipped.
Fr. Spitzer said Mass on Sunday for a larger than expected crowd. He roots the Bulldogs to victory Sunday against Santa Clara. Photo by Mark Muelheim.
Sunday afternoon’s alumni social was packed by 4:15 p.m. . . . it wasn’t scheduled to start until 4:30. Alumni Association planners are looking into getting a larger room for today's (Monday's) social.
Forty-seven alumni and family members showed up for an alumni bowling tournament Saturday night in The Orleans alley, and 32 alums played in an alumni golf event at the Revere Golf Club, with a second event scheduled there today (Monday).
“We are definitely well represented here,” said Alumni Relations Director Bob Finn. “In fact, looking around this hotel you’d swear Gonzaga owned this place.”
The tournament host Orleans Hotel has 2,000 rooms and every one is booked this weekend -- mostly by Gonzaga fans.