The Zags had the first fans to set foot in the Kennel since Feb. 29, 2020 to a treat, stomping rival St. Mary’s 87-65 in a game that wasn’t that close as the reserves played most of the second half in a win that clinched the WCC regular season title for the eighth straight season.
The last time the Zags played a home game in front of fans was also against the Gaels in a contest they won 86-76 to close out the 2019-20 regular season. As the state of Washington moves into Phase 2 of reopening, the McCarthey Athletic Center is allowed to have 200 individuals in the building inclusive of both teams, coaching staffs, TV personnel, media, event staff and custodians.
More notable for the players is that their family members will be able to see them in live action in the Kennel for the first time this season.
“There was a limited amount of fans in the stands but the biggest thing is our guys’ parents and families are here and they’re feeling that,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “We have some great families involved with the program right now. You can see on the guys face how much it means to them to have their parents and siblings there.”
As the final two weeks of the season dawn on the No. 1 team in the nation, parents and players alike get to help celebrate Senior Night against Loyola Marymount on Feb. 27.
Putting on a show for the onlookers in warmups were Jalen Suggs and Julian Strawther, swapping 360 dunks and delighting those in attendance as the Zags stayed loose before facing off with the Gaels for the second time this season.
The GU Cheer team was also allowed to attend for the first time this season, positioning their signs and pom-poms behind the basket and doing their part to fill the cavernous arena with cheers.
Not to be outdone, the Gonzaga bench plays a part in filling the confines of the McCarthey Athletic Center with noise. After Anton Watson bodied a Gaels defender with a one-handed jam, every player on the bench was up and celebrating as the Zags ran away from the Gaels in the first half.
Much like the pandemic that caused the lack of fans in the first place, some parents were unable to attend due to adverse travel conditions. Drew Timme’s parents Megan and Matt Timme were unable to travel to the game due to the unprecedented snowfall in Dallas, Texas that grounded their plane on the tarmac.
“This will be the first game we missed this year that allows fans,” Matt said via text message.
Nonetheless, eager Zag parents dotted the upper bowl of the McCarthy Athletic Center above banner covered seats in the lower bowl in a foreign albeit welcomed environment. Recent roster addition Ben Gregg had a support system of four family members donning 33 jerseys in the stands to watch the freshman.
The last time the Zags played in front of their faithful fans was a Senior Night contest against St. Mary’s in which Rui Hachimura made a surprise appearance that left the arena in joyous disarray. Although this contest lacked the same level of electricity, the Zags have learned to play without one of the best home-court advantages in college basketball; instead opting to create their own energy during pre-game warmups with shenanigans including Suggs throwing touchdown passes to Joel Ayayi and a litany of thunderous dunks inflicted upon the iron.
Few said in the post-game presser that without fans, it doesn't feel like a college basketball setting. Despite the wishes of every player, fan, coach and casual, the reality of the Kennel without dogs will likely persist until the 2021-22 season.
The Kraziness, unfortunately, will have to wait.