|West Virginia has won its last five games against nationally ranked non-conference opponents at the Coliseum dating back to 2004.
|Dan Friend photo
A really good college basketball team will be hopping on an airplane sometime this afternoon and flying across the country to Morgantown, W.Va., to face the West Virginia Mountaineers on Tuesday night [Listen to today's audio prior to practice
Of course I am referring to 15th-ranked Gonzaga, now 8-1 after Saturday’s 12-point win over New Mexico State.
We know Gonzaga well, having watched the Bulldogs slice, dice and shoot their way to a pair of blowout victories over West Virginia - first in Pittsburgh in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA tournament (the final game for Mountaineer standouts Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant) and then during last year’s season opener in Spokane.
That Gonzaga team won 32 games and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Well, guess what. Almost all of those guys from last year's team will be in Morgantown on Tuesday night. There’s Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton, the son of Gonzaga and NBA legend John Stockton.
There’s Sam Dower, Kyle Dranginis and Drew Barham.
And then there is 7-foot-1, 305-pound center Przermek Karnowski, who not only blocks shots, but he’s also big enough to block out the sun.
I am told there will be 12 NBA scouts here to watch them play on Tuesday night.
Yes, these guys are good. In fact, this is the best non-conference team to play at the Coliseum since eighth-ranked Purdue showed up here for a game on Jan. 16, 2011.
Before that it was 21st-ranked Ohio State on Jan. 23, 2010.
Before that it was 15th-ranked Ole Miss on Dec. 23, 2009 and before that it was second-ranked UCLA on Feb. 10, 2007.
Prior to that it was 20th-ranked George Washington on Dec. 29, 2004.
One hundred seventy three more than the Coliseum’s capacity of 14,000 showed up for that Purdue game. More than a thousand beyond capacity came out for the Ohio State game in 2010 on the afternoon Hot Rod Hundley had his jersey retired.
A capacity-exceeding crowd also watched the Mountaineers play the UCLA Bruins back in 2007 while Ole Miss and George Washington both drew more than 11K.
Do you know what else those five games have in common? Yes, they were all Mountaineer victories.
Gale Catlett used to call it “the Coliseum Magic” whenever his team took the floor to a packed house. Memorable things always seem to occur here whenever that happens.
Who can ever forget that Gary Williams scowl as soon as he stepped off the bus and began his long walk into the arena, or John Chaney getting escorted by West Virginia’s finest out of the gym before the end of the first half!
I am reasonably confident Louisville coach Rick Pitino will never have a warm spot in his heart for the Mountaineer student section. As I recall, after one close loss to West Virginia Pitino was so thrilled with the way he was treated that he sent out an assistant coach to do his postgame press conference.
I distinctly remember Jerry Tarkanian once chewing his way through a large pile of soaking wet towels before the beginning of pregame warm-ups. The coach had a pretty good idea how his Sunday afternoon was going to turn out after spending the prior night lying awake listening to a couple thousand WVU students just across the street from his hotel getting revved up in sub-freezing weather outside the Coliseum.
Years later, Catlett recalled his postgame handshake with Tark and the legendary coach remarking, “Gale, how in the hell did you ever talk me into coming to this place?”
John Thompson had his moments here, too. After one close Hoya victory, when Victor Page drove the length of the floor to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Thompson was feeling pretty good about what his team had just accomplished.
After the game a student reporter asked Thompson to comment on the raucous environment at the Coliseum, to which he replied, “ Young lady, have you ever been to the Carrier Dome?”
A good point by Thompson, for sure, but at the same time his Carrier Dome reference did put the Coliseum in some pretty good company.
The players, too, never forgot their first trip to the Coliseum. The great Austin Carr, Notre Dame’s two-time All-American, once told me that seeing the arena from afar for the first time was like looking at a “giant clamshell in the mountains.”
Pitt’s Levance Fields used to swear that the Coliseum rims were crooked and the lights in the arena were purposely dimmed to affect the opposing team’s shooting.
I can’t speak to the rims, but those dim lights have since been replaced ;).
In addition to all those NBA scouts, ESPN2 will be here as well for a later-than-usual 9 p.m. tip. Perhaps a little more Coliseum Magic will be in store for the Zags on Tuesday night.
It should be a lot of fun. Hope to see you here.