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Thursday, February 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Guess who's coming to Gonzaga?

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Since it rose to prominence as a basketball program in 1999, Gonzaga has authored some significant distinctions: An elite eight appearance among 10 victories in the NCAA tournament, a 6-0 record against ACC schools, a first-team All-American in Dan Dickau and a 2006 player-of-the-year candidate in Adam Morrison.

Saturday, the Zags navigate uncharted waters again, experiencing for the first time a slice of college sports pop culture: "GameDay," the popular ESPN show that celebrates football in the fall and basketball in winter, comes to the Gonzaga campus.

"Outside of a Final Four," says Zags coach Mark Few, "I don't know that you could get a better advertisement for your program."

Football "GameDay" has never appeared in the state of Washington, and only once in the Northwest (at Oregon in 2000). It rarely makes West Coast appearances.

Basketball "GameDay" has never been west of Oklahoma in its two-season existence.

The show will be part of a two-fold gala Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. Stanford, resurgent at 13-7 and hopeful of making a late run at an NCAA berth, visits Gonzaga, whose Morrison has led his 19-3 team to a No. 5 national ranking.

Saturday

Stanford @ Gonzaga, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

"We want to showcase Adam to America," says ESPN's senior coordinating producer, Barry Sacks. "Really showcase the program and the school."

A lot of it is hype and clatter, but it's also remarkable for a school that didn't play in the NCAA tournament until 1995.

"They do such a great job with that show," says Few. "I get up and watch the football one all the time. This is a neat thing, something to get excited about."

ESPN brings out the "A" team for this. The GameDay "talent" includes Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps and Rece Davis. The game will be called by Brad Nessler and Dick Vitale.

"I like going to new environments," Vitale said yesterday. "I'm so accustomed to going to Duke, Carolina and Kentucky, and those are phenomenal. But it's nice going to new places."

While it's an obvious boost for Gonzaga, the day will underscore the promotional deficit of the Pac-10 in its partnership with Fox television. ESPN has long been associated with college basketball, but if it had any inclination for more frequent trips west, those become moot with the Pac-10's alliance with Fox.

Saturday's 1-2 came about as a result of Gonzaga's usual push for a tough non-league schedule, and an annual trip by Zags' director of basketball operations Jerry Krause to ESPN in the spring.

Krause and ESPN execs discussed the new "Kennel" at Gonzaga as an intimate setting for GameDay, and with Few also pushing it, there was general agreement it could fly. The hurdle was in finding a big-name opponent, something ESPN analyst Andy Katz helped facilitate.

"Trent Johnson [Stanford coach] was great about it," said Krause. "Of course, we have to go to their place next year."

It's not a logistical snap. Maybe the most pressure is on the guy who drives the same production truck each week for ESPN; he should be rolling into Spokane today, after a cross-country trek from Gainesville, Fla., Saturday night. For him, it's on to Syracuse for that show next week.

"GameDay" manpower includes about 75 people, from announcers to technicians. It takes about another 75 to handle the game itself.

Unlike football's 90-minute "GameDay," the basketball version goes 60 minutes, and sites are determined before the season.

Must-see games

Tonight

West Virginia at Pittsburgh (6 p.m., ESPN): Mountaineers, not Connecticut or Villanova, lead the Big East.

Saturday

UCLA at Washington (12:30 p.m., Ch. 4): Toting three-game losing streak, Huskies need a good win.

Stanford at Gonzaga (6 p.m., ESPN): Win would be compelling evidence for Cardinals' NCAA case.

Sunday

Illinois at Ohio State (10 a.m., Ch. 7): Smarting from Penn State loss, Illini could get challenged here.

Referring to basketball, Sacks says, "We're certainly playing off our football success, no question. But why should it be any different? The basketball fan is just as passionate about his school. My question is, why did we wait 12 years before we did this?"

Small ball

Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse coach, was musing on the state of the college game recently when he hit upon its essence.

"Where's a big guy?" he asked rhetorically. "For every big guy, there's 10 guards."

Partly because of that simple factor — availability — college hoops is dominated as perhaps never before by three-guard lineups, and in some isolated cases, even four. The most notable practitioner of the four-guard set is fourth-ranked Villanova, which is making do nicely without injured 6-7 Curtis Sumpter. It's using gritty perimeter play from 6-3 Randy Foye, 6-2 Allan Ray, 6-1 Mike Nardi and 6-0 Kyle Lowry.

"You have to have tough, physical guys to get away with that," Boeheim says. "And they have veterans."

Not that guard-dominated play is a new thing. John Wooden won his first NCAA title in 1964 using a lineup with no starter bigger than 6-5.

But then he had dominating centers in Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. The center has always been the Holy Grail of hoops.

The three-point shot arrived in 1986, putting a premium on the perimeter, and in recent years, the NBA has cherry-picked the big guys for returns on the come — Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and the Sonics' Robert Swift, to name a few.

So it's a guard's game. Duke has prospered in recent years as much as anybody using three guards in a slashing, three-point-shooting offense. Arizona won it all in 1997 with Michael Dickerson, Miles Simon and Mike Bibby, with Jason Terry off the bench.

Illinois made a spirited, if futile, run at the national title a year ago with Deron Williams, Luther Head and Dee Brown. Washington won 29 games using lineups that were guard-dominated.

This year, the alignment is favored by teams like Michigan State, Kansas and Oklahoma, but nobody relies on guards quite like Villanova, which fell into the attack last year when Sumpter was hurt before a Sweet 16 game against North Carolina.

"Ours was by mistake," said Wildcats coach Jay Wright. "Going into the Carolina game [a narrow loss] they didn't have any idea what we were going to do, because we didn't have any idea what we were going to do.

"It worked, so we stuck with it."

It's still working. The Wildcats are 18-2.

By next year, with the implementation of the 19-year NBA draft age, the game will look different in some precincts.

ACC acrimony

Let us introduce

Rodney Carney, Memphis


Position: Forward.

Ht: 6-7. Class: Sr.

Hometown: Indianapolis, Ind.

Noteworthy: One of the nation's top wing players and most electrifying dunkers ... Leads the third-ranked Tigers in scoring at 18 points per game ... Scored 17 points in the Tigers' 83-72 victory over Gonzaga on Dec. 27 ... A John Wooden Award top 30 finalist and third-team midseason All-American, according to SI.com ... The Indianapolis Star's Player of the Year his senior year at Northwest High School, where he averaged 21.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.

Rick Lund

The ACC's one-game suspension of the officiating crew that worked Duke's overtime victory over Florida State on Saturday has caused a stir in that conference, including renewed accusations that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski holds undue sway over officials.

With 9:24 left, officials called a foul on FSU's Alexander Johnson, and a double-technical on Johnson and Duke's Shelden Williams. Johnson suddenly went from three fouls to five, and out. He already had a double-double, and the loss could end up being the difference in FSU (13-6, 4-5) getting to the NCAA tournament.

The ACC office says officials erred in hitting Johnson with his half of the double-technical.

CBS SportsLine's Gregg Doyel wrote this week that Krzyzewski's bench behavior is "noxious ... an eroding influence on the sport he helped build."

Duke shot 43 free throws in the 97-96 win, Florida State 11.

And what's more

• This is a pivotal week for Stanford's NCAA chances and center Matt Haryasz. With a swollen eye and double vision, he's likely to wear goggles against Cal and Gonzaga, the question being his effectiveness.

Terrance Williams, the Louisville freshman from Rainier Beach, sat out a game last week with what were termed academics-related reasons.

• Garfield product Marcelus Kemp of Nevada leads WAC free-throw shooters at .887.

• No wonder Oregon State is pining for the return of G Lamar Hurd. Jason Fontenet is shooting .293 with an assist-turnover ratio under one. Now Fontenet has been suspended for OSU's trip to Arizona this week for behavioral reasons.

• Hawaii can't blame its road woes on failure to acclimate to different time zones. The Rainbows left Wednesday for a Saturday game at Boise State.

Bud Withers: bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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