So awhile back, I ran across an item related to University of Arizona hoops. Shockingly, it had nothing to do with indictments, depositions or taped phone conversations. It was a Wildcats all-villain team – you know, a writer’s cast of scofflaws who had foiled Arizona’s appointed mission to victory through UA’s rich recent decades. Offhand, I can think of several – Jerry Tarkanian, Isaiah Thomas, Frank Kaminsky.
Well, if ‘Zona can have an all-villain team, then surely so can Gonzaga. I’m sure Hank Anderson, Adrian Buoncristiani and Dan Fitzgerald had their own personal bete noires, but this one will be focused on the last couple of decades at GU, since (a) that’s my timeframe of (relative) expertise, and (b) that’s when most of you began paying attention, anyway.
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Randy Bennett – Bennett probably deserves to be MVP of this exercise, as the CEO of the outfit that jousts most regularly at a high level with the Zags. Think about this: When Duke plays North Carolina, you think of Coach K and Roy Williams, and you might not even be able to recall when the rivalry featured anybody else on the bench. Well, consider that the Saint Mary’s-GU series features two head coaches, Bennett and Mark Few, who have been going at it against each other a full THIRD longer than Krzyzewski and Williams – 48 games to 36. Few has a 37-11 record against Bennett, and yes, Zag fans love to twit Bennett for post-game blow-by handshakes and soft non-league schedules, but he deserves major props for carving out a fiefdom in Moraga. And that mammoth upset over GU in the ’19 WCC tournament left a mark.
Verne Harris – He’s recognized as one of the best officials around, but I don’t know what got into him the night Gonzaga played North Carolina for the national title in 2017. He was part of a crew that turned in an uneven (both ways) performance unbefitting the season’s climactic game. Zach Collins got to play 14 minutes before fouling out; I contend that if he’d been allowed to play 20, Gonzaga would have hung a banner.
Corey Belser – The former San Diego Torero was a defensive specialist who had unforgettable one-on-one duels with Adam Morrison. When they went at it, it was anything-goes, arm bars and half-nelsons, including rampant trash talk. When they lined up before the 2006 WCC tournament at Gonzaga, Morrison greeted Belser with: “It’s nice that your family could be here for your last game.” I wrote in "Glory Hounds" about Belser, who went on to coach (he’s head man of the national team in the country of Maldives) and he was well-spoken and charitable. “At the end of the day, I’ve always wanted Adam Morrison to be successful,” he told me, “kind of like a piece of me was in Adam.”
Omar Samhan – What would an all-villain team be without Samhan, the former Saint Mary’s center, and his repartee with GU students, in person and on the Interweb? He said things like, at least Saint Mary’s got to leave when it was done playing Gonzaga; the students had to stay in Spokane.
Luc Richard M’bah a Moute – Somebody has to answer for Gonzaga’s most excruciating, win-that-became-a-loss, roundhouse-to-the-gut defeat in history, right? There were several conspirators in UCLA’s 73-71 Sweet 16 victory over the Zags in the 2006 NCAA regionals, but the chief instigator was M’bah a Moute, who not only had 14 points and 10 rebounds, he scored the go-ahead basket in UCLA’s wild comeback (after Cedric Bozeman tipped the ball from J.P. Batista’s elevated grasp), and then raced downcourt and knocked the ball from Derek Raivio to prevent a potential go-ahead basket. The memory still aggrieves Zag fans.
Lorenzo Romar – It almost seems like piling on to include LoRo, a fine man who tapped out at Washington. But in 2006, he raised GU hackles by announcing a cessation of hostilities in the Zag-Husky series. A decade’s hiatus didn’t do much for Romar or the UW, which, after his cease-fire proclamation, lost by 20, 16 and 27 to the Zags. Exiled by Washington in 2017, Romar has set up shop in a second run at Pepperdine.
Bronson Kaufusi – Yes, Kaufusi’s annoyance was brief for Gonzaga fans – just 20 games for Brigham Young in the 2012-13 season. But why did he have to unleash his 6-6, 280-pound self – a body headed to an NFL defensive-end job, currently with the Jets – on the innocents of the WCC? Kaufusi fouled 28 times in 128 minutes that year – that’s a lot – and at times, he seemed more hell-bent on wreaking destruction than making baskets. Today, there are extended-family Kaufusis all over the BYU map, three of them on the 2019 football roster. Side note: Bronson Kaufusi’s mother Michelle is the mayor of Provo.
Ron Baker – We hate to single out Baker, an earnest, hustling off-guard. But there has to be a culprit for one of Gonzaga’s most devastating losses, the 76-70 defeat as a No. 1 seed to Wichita State back in 2013, and Baker was as culpable as anybody, with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 of 6 on three-point shots. The Zags had scrapped back from a 13-point first-half deficit to lead 49-41, at which point the staggered Shockers called timeout. Baker hit a three and the battle was rejoined. Survive that game, and Gonzaga had a great path – LaSalle and Ohio State – to get to a Final Four four years before it first happened.
Rex Walters – The former San Francisco coach seemed to have a way of getting under the skin of Zag fans – and vice versa. Some of that owed to USF’s three straight home wins against Gonzaga from 2010-12, the first two in overtime, the third by a point, in often-bizarre circumstances. You could say Walters fought the Dons job to a standstill; when he got fired in 2016, he had a 127-127 record at the school. Since then, he’s been on the move, working as Grand Rapids Drive coach – that’s the Detroit Pistons G League team – then an assistant with the Pistons, an aide to Eric Musselman at Nevada, and he’s currently assisting Danny Manning at Wake Forest.
Matthew Dellavedova – Lot of Saint Mary’s representation here, but why not? Ol’ Mouthpiece was a persistent thorn in GU’s side before he landed in the NBA.
Matt Mooney – Texas Tech was the team that denied the Zags a second Final Four last March, and Mooney, a double transfer, had more to do with it than anybody, with 17 points, five assists and three steals.
John Clougherty, Curtis Shaw and Kerry Sitton – John Clougherty was one of the game’s most respected officials, especially late in the 20th century, doing 12 Final Fours. Shaw worked six, including every one from 2006 to 2010. But if you asked Zag coaches which of their NCAA games they feel were most affected by officials, they’d recall the 2004 second-round blowout at Seattle’s KeyArena against Nevada. Ronny Turiaf and Cory Violette figured to be the two-headed “big” attack the Wolf Pack couldn’t contain, but Turiaf was whistled for his third foul with 11:08 left in the first half, and played a mere 15 minutes, scoring 13 points. Violette told me in 2015, “If you go back and watch it, it’d really make you mad. Turiaf had two phantom fouls.”
Jimmer – Enough said. He had 34 points the day BYU torched Gonzaga out of the 2011 tournament in the second round in Denver. To this day, I’ve never seen a team – the Cougars – that looked more confident in warmups.
Lee Fowler – A beer on me at Jack and Dan’s if you can identify this man. OK, Fowler was the athletic director at North Carolina State and chairman of the NCAA basketball committee in 2002, when Gonzaga, expecting a seed in the 3-5 range, got assigned a No. 6, and worse, was sent to high-altitude Albuquerque to take on 11th-seeded Wyoming. After three introductory years of success in the tournament, this was the year of lost innocence for the Zags; not only was their seeding disappointment palpable, they fell to the Cowboys in an upset – one of just three first-round exits in the 21-season streak of NCAA appearances.