Guard play guides No. 1 Zags to a WCC tournament title

College basketball nation knows all about Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, the big men who have led the Gonzaga Bulldogs to a No. 1 national ranking.

Timme led the Zags to the NCAA title game last year, and Holmgren is the heralded 7-foot freshman who could be among the top two or three picks in this year’s NBA draft.

The nation knows less about Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton and Andrew Nembhard.

Those three guards showed off in style Tuesday night, leading the Zags to an 82-69 victory over the No. 17 Saint Mary’s Gaels, in Las Vegas, for the West Coast Conference tournament title.

With the win, Gonzaga secured the WCC’s automatic bid and all but locked up a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Saint Mary’s likely will make the 68-team field as an at-large team, as well.

The Gaels, playing at home in Moraga, Calif., on Feb. 27, beat the Zags by 10 points and looked good in doing it. On Tuesday night in the WCC finals, Strawther, Bolton and Nembhard exacted revenge.

Running the offense and shooting with authority, Nembhard had 19 points and passed for seven assists. Bolton had 18 points and Strawther 16. Combined, the three hit eight of 13 three-point shots.

Quite a show by a backcourt that will need to play at this level in March if the Zags hope to make it back to the Final Four.

NCAA automatic bids

From Tuesday’s title games
Gonzaga — West Coast Conference
x-Jacksonville State — Atlantic Sun
Bryant — Northeast Conference
Delaware — Colonial Athletic Association
Wright State — Horizon League
South Dakota State — Summit League

Through Monday’s games
Chattanooga — Southern Conference
Georgia State — Sun Belt
Longwood — Big South
Loyola-Chicago — Missouri Valley
Murray State — Ohio Valley

x-The Bellarmine Knights beat Jacksonville 77-72 for the Atlantic Sun title Tuesday night but will not get the conference’s automatic bid. Bellarmine, located in Louisville, Ky., is in the second of a four-year transitional period from Division II to Division I that prohibits the Knights from competing in the “Big Dance,” per NCAA rules. As the regular-season champion, Jacksonville State (Ala.) was awarded with A-Sun’s automatic bid.

An emotional Dick Vitale thanks the fans for their support

Dick Vitale, an iconic television voice of college basketball for the last four decades, on Tuesday night effusively thanked fans on the air for all of their well-wishes during his battle with cancer.

It was an emotional moment.

The 82-year-old Vitale fought back tears as he addressed his struggle with lymphoma, just before tipoff of ESPN’s nationally-televised game between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA in Las Vegas.

“It’s great being here, Dave,” Vitale told broadcast partner Dave O’Brien. “I didn’t want to cry. I can’t believe I’m sitting here.”

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Vitale made the trip to cover the game “a few days after having a fourth round of drugs pumped into his body” to fight the lymphoma.

He was diagnosed on Oct. 12.

Vitale initially was told he might need a surgery for what was believed to be cancer of the bile duct.

But he later was informed that he had the lymphoma, which was good news because it was something that could be treated with six months of chemotherapy, according to The Times.

A former coach at the high school, college and professional levels, Vitale has been broadcasting games since the late 1970s.

For years, he’s been one of the faces of college basketball, known for his gregarious personality and his eccentricities in describing the game on the air.

But in his remarks just before the Gonzaga-UCLA tipoff, Vitale expressed humility and gratitude for support from his family and friends and from the fans.

“I want to thank all you people,” he said.

Years ago, Vitale’s life was touched by cancer when his friend, former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma.

Through the adversity, the two became close, and Vitale attended when Valvano delivered his “don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” remarks at the ESPY Awards presentation in March of 1993.

Valvano passed away a month later.

In the aftermath of his friend’s passing, Vitale emerged as a crusader for cancer research.

The Tampa, Fla., resident has helped raise $44 million for pediatric cancer, which, he said during the broadcast, he wants to boost to $50 million this year.

“Yes, 6 months of chemo will be a challenge,” he said on his Twitter feed. “But with all the love support and (prayers) I am receiving, I am planning on winning the toughest battle I have ever faced.”

As Vitale watched from courtside, Gonzaga put on a show. The No 1-ranked Bulldogs defeated the No. 2 Bruins easily, 83-63. Guard Andrew Nembhard scored 24 points. Forward Drew Timmme had 18.

Freshman Chet Holmgren caught Vitale’s attention with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks. On one play, the lithe 7-footer blocked a shot, dribbled behind his back on a fast break and dunked it two handed.

“He’s a Diaper Dandy deluxe,” Vitale said.

Vitale emerged as one of the stars of the night, as well. Fans chanted his name after the game as he offered remarks on-air to the ESPN viewers.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few told reporters that Vitale “just loves this game” and has done so much for it. “What an ambassador he is for college basketball,” Few said.

Streaking Gonzaga rises to No. 1 in Associated Press poll

With 27 wins and only two losses, the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday moved up to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 college basketball poll.

Both Gonzaga and No. 2 Virginia climbed one spot after previously top-ranked Duke lost at home last Wednesday to North Carolina.

Gonzaga, from the West Coast Conference, has built the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games.

All of the victories in the streak have come by double-figure scoring margins.

Deep and talented, the Bulldogs beat Pepperdine by 28 points and BYU by 34 at home last week.

Their streak notwithstanding, the Bulldogs haven’t been tested by many of the NCAA powerhouses this season, which will bring their ranking into question in some quarters.

They won against Duke but lost back-to-back games against Tennessee and North Carolina in non-conference.

Since then, they have stormed to a 14-0 record in the WCC and have boosted their nation-leading scoring average to 90.7 points per game.

Virginia, by contrast, plays at a much slower pace and leads the nation defensively by holding opponents to 54.5 points.

After a 64-52 victory at Louisville, the Cavaliers improved to 8-2 against ranked opponents.

Virginia, third-ranked Duke and No. 5 North Carolina are all tied for first place in the ACC standings.

Despite the loss to the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils dropped only two spots to third in the poll on the heels of their 75-65 road victory Saturday at Syracuse.

Led by RJ Barrett and his 30 points and seven assists, Duke registered the win in its first game without injured star Zion Williamson.

Williamson, the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, was hurt in the first minute against the Tar Heels.

The American Athletic Conference-leading Houston Cougars, 26-1 on the season after a 71-59 home victory over South Florida, moved up one spot in the poll to eighth.

The Cougars have won 11 in a row, and they lead the nation in field goal percentage defense (36.2). The Cougars are fifth in points allowed (60.3).

AP Top 25
1. Gonzaga 27-2 West Coast
2. Virginia 24-2 ACC
3. Duke 24-3 ACC
4. Kentucky 23-4 SEC
5. North Carolina 22-5 ACC
6. Michigan State 23-5 Big Ten
7. Tennessee 24-3 SEC
8. Houston 26-1 American
9. Michigan 24-4 Big Ten
10. Marquette 23-4 Big East
11. Texas Tech 22-5 Big 12
12. Nevada 25-2 Mountain West
13. LSU 22-5 SEC
14. Purdue 22-7 Big Ten
15. Kansas 20-7 Big 12
16. Kansas State 21-6 Big 12
17. Maryland 21-7 ACC
18. Florida State 21-6 ACC
19. Wisconsin 19-8
20. Virginia Tech 21-6
21. Buffalo 24-3
22. Iowa 21-6
23. Cincinnati 23-4
24. Wofford 24-4
25. Washington 22-5

No. 3 Gonzaga wallops Texas A&M, 94-71

Third-ranked Gonzaga allowed Texas A&M to stay in the game for the first 14 minutes and then rolled to an easy 94-71 victory Thursday night in front of a rowdy crowd at the McCarthey Center in Spokane, Washington.

In the first home game for Gonzaga against a team from the Southeastern Conference, the Bulldogs overwhelmed the Aggies by shooting 49.2 percent from the field while forcing 14 turnovers and blocking 10 shots.

Guard Zach Norvell scored 22 points to lead Gonzaga, a team that reached the NCAA title game in 2017 and the round of 16 last season. Forward Rui Hachimura produced 18 points and seven rebounds.

Savion Flagg scored 18 and T.J. Starks 16 for A&M.

Both teams entered the game with key players sidelined. Forward Killian Tillie is out for Gonzaga with a leg injury. Guard Admon Gilder did not make the trip for A&M because of unspecified health issues.

Gilder out indefinitely

A&M senior guard Admon Gilder will be out indefinitely due to health issues, according to a story posted on

Gilder will remain in Texas for further evaluation while the Aggies travel to Washington and Vancouver in the coming week.

“I’m grateful for our medical team at Texas A&M. They are working diligently to get Admon back to the court as soon as possible, but his overall well-being is our priority,” head coach Billy Kennedy said.

Gilder said he is disappointed that he can’t be with the team this week.

“I understand that my health is important and that resolving this successfully will allow me to continue to pursue basketball for years to come,” he said. “I will overcome with God’s help, for I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”