SPOKANE – A couple of 12th-rated teams collided here at the McCarthey Athletic Center Thursday night, and the result wasn’t all that unpredictable.
Gonzaga is 12th-ranked by the nation’s basketball coaches, which probably flatters the state of the Zags a tad. Washington State was picked 12th in the Pac-12 by media, which could be a little harsh on the Cougars.
Don’t take that to mean they met in the middle in the renewal of their annual rivalry. The Zags, on the strength of some veteran court awareness and crackling 13-of-23 three-point shooting, dispatched the Cougars, 90-74.
WSU has a few parts. The Zags have more than a few, plus a better idea what they want to happen.
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“There’s a reason why they shot the way they did,” WSU coach Ken Bone said, referring to Gonzaga’s 55.9 percent. “Their execution was much better than our execution.
“Twenty assists … their spacing made it very difficult for us to guard tonight.”
The win made it four in a row to start the season for Gonzaga, while the Cougars fell for the first time after two victories.
For the long version of what took place, go back to last April, when 7-foot Kelly Olynyk opted out of his senior season with the Zags and entered the NBA draft.
Gonzaga went hard after graduate transfer forwards Josh Davis of Tulane and Mike Moser of UNLV. But they landed at San Diego State and Oregon, respectively.
So this is a Zags edition that is short on big bodies and long on guards. It’s going to have to dictate terms with its excellent backcourt.
“We knew we’d be drive-kick-shoot, a lot of threes,” said junior Kevin Pangos, the Canadian two-year starter at point guard. “So far it’s working.”
The Zags will be tested harder than they were on this night, but it was mostly high marks against the Cougars. Pangos was a first-half demon, scoring 20 of his 27 points. Drew Barham, the 6-6 Memphis transfer now masquerading as a power forward with the shortage of big men, had eight rebounds to go with his career-high 17 points.
David Stockton, starting now in the backcourt along with Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., had nine assists and no turnovers, eliciting a reference from coach Mark Few to his famous dad John: “That’s like his old man’s numbers.”
The Cougars were hard-pressed to muzzle all the Zag options. Long-armed wing Dexter Kernich-Drew started on Pangos but couldn’t keep up, and eventually, WSU zoned a lot. But the Zag backcourt created and dished, and the shooters kept shooting — and hitting.
“There’s a reason they’re 13th in the country (by AP),” said Bone. “They play well together.”
Gonzaga never trailed. It had an eight-point run to take an 11-3 lead and nudged it up to 49-33 at the half on two Pangos threes in the last 78 seconds, each assisted by Stockton.
The Cougars scrapped and had it back to nine with 15 minutes left. But Gonzaga collected itself after a Few timeout, and Kyle Dranginis’ driving three-point play kicked the lead back to double digits, where it stayed the rest of the night.
“Obviously, we executed terrifically on the offensive end,” said Few.
Pangos is ever more assertive, and a guy the Cougars will be happy to see leaving after next season. All he’s done against them in three years is (a) hit nine threes for a career-high 33 points back in 2011, (b) hit a tough layup with two seconds left to deny them in Pullman last year, and (c) hit 8 of 13 shots this time.
“I guess I like playing these guys,” Pangos said.
Easily the brightest note for the Cougars was the play of point guard Ike Iroegbu, who had 20 points and four assists and was somebody the Zags couldn’t handle.
“He’s going to be a good player if he can shoot threes like that (2 of 3),” said Few. “And he’s a handful in transition, especially with the new rules.”
Next week, the teams head to warmer climes, the Zags to the Maui Invitational, WSU to the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.
“It’s been cold here,” said Bell. “I’m ready to wear some shorts.”
That’ll be a different look. The 2013-14 Zags have already been working on theirs.
• Washington State signed junior-college transfer Jermaine Morgan to a letter of intent to play basketball next season.
Morgan is a 6-8, 215-pound forward who plays at Moberly Area Community College in Missouri.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org