Bulldogs feed off Morrison's drive
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Gonzaga had Saint Mary's beat, up nine with 51 seconds left.
Most players would probably settle for dribbling around so they could run more clock and start to celebrate a conference tournament championship with a trip to the free-throw line.
But nothing is reserved about Adam Morrison's game.
Morrison took an inbound pass, saw a seam up the middle of the court and jammed the ball through the hoop.
"That's him," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after claiming the Zags' seventh West Coast Conference tournament title and second straight with an 80-67 victory over nemesis Saint Mary's Monday at Santa Clara's Leavey Center.
"Adam will be fired up and raring to go in the NCAAs," Few said. "He makes this team more attack-oriented. That's Adam's personality. His team has taken on a lot of his personality."
Morrison, who has the late Jim Morrison's hairstyle and the legendary Larry Bird's shooting form, scored a career-high 30 points in the win.
"He's so fast, and people underestimate his speed," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "He's 6-8 and so hard to guard. He can shoot it and take it to the hole. He's a smart player."
Morrison, who had scored 15 points in two previous meetings against San Diego this season, lit up the Toreros for 25 in Sunday night's semifinal. That and the 30 spot he put up late Monday made Morrison the obvious choice for WCC MVP.
Senior Ronny Turiaf said it's an honor to play with Morrison. His teammates seem to concur, since, as Few said, they feed off his emotion.
That's why this Gonzaga team might have more of a chance than last year's team to advance as far as the 1999 Bulldogs to the Elite Eight.
Morrison has the moxie to take this team on his back and carry it a round or two or three or four.
He's a sensational scorer who had NBA scouts in attendance furiously writing notes throughout the two days. He's also a verbal and emotional leader. He's not afraid to challenge an opponent before, during and after the game. Remember the loss to Missouri in December? It was Morrison who was right in the face of the Tigers' Jimmy McKinney after the Bulldogs lost.
Morrison battles diabetes daily but never makes excuses, and he's as tough a player as any this season.
Bennett said the Bulldogs are a lot better than when St. Mary's beat Gonzaga on Jan. 8, and that is in large part because of Morrison. Sure, Turiaf is still a major factor (18 points and 14 boards Monday), forward J.P. Batista is more comfortable in the post and lead guard Derek Raivio is even more astute at taking the ball to the rack (8-of-10 at the free-throw line). But Morrison's improvement could be the difference.
"I'm a lot better at moving without the ball and more of a complete player," Morrison said. "I'm not just a scorer."
And he's not just a talker, although he doesn't mind the verbal jousting in games. Saint Mary's pushed Gonzaga more than anyone did a year ago. The teams split and St. Mary's had a shot to win the game in Spokane.
The Bulldogs lost in Moraga and fell to San Francisco on the road. A year ago, the Zags blew through the WCC with a perfect 14-0 mark.
"This was good because there was a lot of trash-talking this year by every team, and it kept us playing hard," Morrison said. "We had a tough nonconference, and the conference was the best it has ever been. And we won it."
The Zags are younger, but the league did improve, especially at the bottom where a loss was plausible at every road stop.
Bennett said he thought the Zags were better last year when they received a No. 2 seed but were knocked off by Nevada in the second round. This year's Zags could be a No. 3 seed, but a No. 4 seed is more likely.
A year ago, the Zags' two best nonconference games were losses to Saint Joseph's and Stanford, two of the top teams. This season, the Zags gave Washington, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State their first losses of the season, with the latter two games on neutral courts.
"A year ago, we were playing like a team that felt a burden down the stretch, and it showed in the league tournament and then in the NCAA Tournament," Few said. "I don't know if it's the strength of our league or that we've got young guys, but they're raring to go.
"This team isn't sentimental or reflective, and early on they bristled at me for making comments about last year's team," Few said. "They wanted to establish their own identity. I knew they would bristle at it, and that's why I reminded them that we were so good last year. I haven't had to remind them about it."
He shouldn't. The returning players all remember the feeling of losing to the Wolf Pack.
"I still remember the seniors' faces after we lost that game and the disgusting feeling we had," Morrison said. "I don't want to see those faces again like that, nor do I want to feel that way again."
If he keeps playing with the passion and purpose that he did the past two days in Santa Clara, he might not have to feel sick about a loss for a few weeks, at least.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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