Stress-free week ... don’t get used to it

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Remember back in the day, when Zags fans used to complain about fretting through close games?

Those were the times when Mark Few’s gang just couldn’t get it really rolling, and maybe had to slip out the back door with a scary win?

Yep, that was a different time in Gonzaga basketball — a completely different era.

Let’s see, how long ago was that, exactly?

Oh, right.

It was last week.

You couldn’t turn a corner in Zag country without joining a grumpy conversation …

“How on Earth could they get seven points behind against Portland?

Portland, for heaven’s sake.”

And then Pepperdine …

“They could have LOST that one. At home.”

Winning 75-70 doesn’t even describe the tension of Admon Gilder making those two free throws to close it out with four seconds remaining.

Did we mention that was Pepperdine, and not Duke?

You got the impression that a lot of Zags fans just couldn’t take the stress — that being No. 1 in the nation somehow entitles you to blowout victories.

SO …

Are you happy now?

After those difficult assignments against Portland and Pepperdine, the Zags took off for southern California and a little enjoyment.

A surprising number of fans tagged along, and they were rewarded, because …

Gonzaga put aside those frights of the previous week and just beat the hell out of San Diego and Loyola Marymount.

The opener at Jenny Craig Pavilion was never in doubt, a 94-50 romp that was just as one-sided as the score.

They followed that up with a 87-62 thumping of Loyola Marymount — turning a sluggish first half into a racehorse rout, and overall just a fun sweep down in sun country.

San Diego was one of the tougher stops on the WCC schedule a year ago, but the Toreros lost almost an entire starting lineup and are building with youngsters and newcomers to the program.

If this had been a boxing match, it would have been stopped early.

Let’s see, the Zags put up 74 shots to 61 for San Diego, which is the kind of things you can do by grabbing 20 more rebounds (47-27).

Gonzaga had a nice night from deep (8 for 19) while the Toreros did not (3 for 16).

The stat lines just go on and on, as you guess they might when the No. 1 team in the country is matched against a rebuilding bunch that is now 7-12 overall and 0-4 in the WCC.

Gonzaga, in case you were wondering, is 18-1, 4-0.

BESIDES fattening up on season stats and so forth, there was a particularly pleasant reason for the Zags to play a game on cruise control.

Guard Jay Ayayi, who led the Bulldogs with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting — including a trio of 3-pointers — took the upbeat philosophical view:

“Everybody says that playing game like (Pepperdine) is good for us, and that it helps to get tested. That’s true, I guess, but I’d rather play games like this — where guys are open for easy shots, and you can get fast break baskets.

“I like that, getting good shots and not having any pressure, except the pressure you put on yourself to play well.”

And that brings us to Saturday afternoon at Loyola Marymount (7-10, 1-2), when the Zags did have to work for a while — at least on defense.

They couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean for the first half, but they made up for it by putting the squeeze on a physical LMU squad.

That defensive effort yielded an early 30-15 Zags lead, and a quick six-point burst just before halftime increased the lead to 38-22 at the break.

The dam seemed to burst after that.

Point guard Ryan Woolridge, in particular, began slicing up the Lions — racking up 13 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds.

Post man Filip Petrusev, the human point machine, added 16 to the 17 he scored against San Diego.

BAD NEWS, though, for all you smooth sailors.

This week isn’t likely to be quite the same kind of cruise as the Zags enjoyed down south.

Santa Clara (15-3, 2-1) and BYU (13-5, 2-1) — tied for second in the WCC with Pacific (14-5, 2-1) — will be visiting the Kennel on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

The conference is still shaking out, with early surprises like Saint Mary’s losing back-to-back games to Pacific (in four overtimes) and Santa Clara.

BYU will be good, but how the Cougs shape up as a conference contender will be a mystery until we know how well they play with Yoeli Childs, and how long they’ll have to play without him.

Childs missed both games last week with a dislocated finger on his shooting hand suffered during practice. He has appeared in only seven games after being suspended for the first nine games of the season.

And Saint Mary’s, no matter the early upsets, will be a factor at the top of the conference race with senior point guard Jordan Ford pulling the strings.

But the fact is that you don’t really know how it’s all going to fall into place until everyone’s had a crack at the leaders — and especially against the Zags.

Of course, if you were hoping it was all going to be 44-point routs to enjoy week after week …

You might have to toughen up and handle a few tight ones.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball each Tuesday.

Steve’s various tales from several decades in sports — “Moments, Memories and Madness” — run on Sundays.

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