Updated Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 12:46 AM
In college athletics' warped new geography, East is East and West is West, right up until West Virginia is in the Big 12, and Boise State is in the Big East and Maryland is in the Big Ten.
The trickledown buzz even encircled Gonzaga in recent days, as ESPN.com reported that the Zags would be receptive to joining the coalition of seven Catholic schools that just broke away from the Big East to form their own conference, for better or worse.
If that concept is hard to wrap your head around, consider one for the here and now: By the end of the calendar year, the 2012-13 Zags will have played five games against the Big 12. And so far, so good, after Saturday night's Battle in Seattle, where a pretty much flawless second half carried 14th-ranked GU to a 68-52 victory over Kansas State in front of a festive crowd of 16,241.
"We played good 'D,' man," said a happy Mark Few, the Gonzaga coach. "We played really good 'D" especially in the second half."
K-State brought to town pretty much the guts of last year's team that won a game in the NCAA tournament, minus the coach, Frank Martin, who gave way to Bruce Weber.
For a half, the Wildcats (7-2) caused all sorts of problems, trailing just 27-26, and then the Zags (10-1) clamped down, energized by the hustle of senior walk-on Mike Hart, and won going away to regain some of the mojo that moved them as high as No. 10 in the country two weeks ago.
"It's good to win a game against a good opponent," said Few. "That is a big, strong, physical team inside. People are going to have some issues playing against them, especially (at home)."
If the Zags are on their way to join the Breakaway Bunch of the East, it's a shame they won't be able to take Hart with them. Few turned to him to start the second half in place of struggling Guy Landry Edi.
"When they tell me that," Hart said, "it usually means, 'We need a boost.' "
Boost provided. Hart was assigned the Wildcats' second-team All-Big 12 guard, Rodney McGruder, and he caused McGruder turnovers on K-State's first two possessions. Hart also snatched two offensive rebounds, and to cap a blistering four minutes, he stole a pass and drove coast-to-coast before he was fouled intentionally, making one of two free throws that capped a 9-0 run starting the second half.
"He does the little things," said Zags big man Kelly Olynyk, who led all scorers with 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting. "He's the X factor."
All the while, the Gonzaga guards toned down the mistakes, cut the team's nine first-half turnovers to five after the break, and kept dishing the ball to the mobile Olynyk in places he couldn't miss. That's been happening a lot; Olynyk is now shooting 68.4 percent.
Gonzaga outrebounded K-State 33-26 and also made 17 of 20 free throws.
McGruder, bothered mostly by Hart, Edi and Gary Bell Jr., didn't cash his only field goal in nine tries until 6:33 remained and also had five turnovers. And point guard Angel Rodriguez, who bedeviled Gonzaga with 12 points in the first half, had only two in the second.
Meanwhile, at midday, athletic director Mike Roth got to musing about today's convoluted college athletics landscape. He and the Zags are — publicly, at least — taking an ear-to-the-ground approach and say they haven't been approached.
He said any such move out of the West Coast Conference would almost certainly have to be for all sports, and added, "None of us can forget, the biggest difference between Gonzaga and the rest of those schools is 2,500 miles."
Said Few afterward, "Especially when you're at a place like Gonzaga and you've got a national program, you've got to sit back and listen and see what's going to be the best thing for you as you move forward. It's happening and it's happening fast."
Hart took the competitor's view, saying, "I couldn't imagine traveling every week to play two games on the East Coast, but it'd be a pretty cool and exciting thing to play those teams two games a year. As a team, I think we'd love it."
First things first. The Zags are still in the WCC. At least, after they get out of the Big 12.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS ST. (7-2) — Williams 1-3 0-0 2, Gipson 0-1 0-2 0, Rodriguez 4-11 3-3 14, McGruder 1-9 2-2 4, Spradling 2-6 2-2 8, Southwell 3-5 1-2 7, Irving 1-3 0-0 3, Lawrence 1-2 2-2 4, Diaz 1-3 2-2 4, Henriquez 0-3 0-2 0, Schultz 0-0 0-0 0, Meyer 0-0 0-0 0, Orris 0-0 2-2 2, Johnson 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 16-48 14-19 52.
GONZAGA (10-1) — Landry Edi 1-3 2-2 5, Harris 2-6 6-6 10, Olynyk 10-13 0-0 20, Pangos 3-6 2-2 9, Bell, Jr. 3-6 4-4 11, Dranginis 0-0 0-0 0, Stockton 0-3 0-0 0, Karnowski 2-5 1-2 5, Hart 0-1 2-4 2, Dower 3-6 0-0 6, Barham 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-51 17-20 68.
Halftime — Gonzaga 27-26. Three-point goals — Kansas St. 6-18 (Rodriguez 3-7, Spradling 2-5, Irving 1-2, Southwell 0-1, McGruder 0-3), Gonzaga 3-12 (Landry Edi 1-1, Pangos 1-3, Bell, Jr. 1-3, Hart 0-1, Harris 0-1, Barham 0-1, Stockton 0-2). Fouled out — Olynyk. Rebounds — Kansas St. 26 (McGruder 5), Gonzaga 33 (Harris 7). Assists — Kansas St. 10 (Rodriguez 3), Gonzaga 15 (Pangos 6). Total fouls — Kansas St. 16, Gonzaga 17. Technicals — Rodriguez, Kansas St. bench. A — 16,241.
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Gonzaga's Elias Harris gets the shot to drop as he splits the defenders in the lane in first half Saturday against Kansas State at KeyArena. The Zags outscored the Wildcats 41-26 in the second half.
DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Gonzaga's Kyle Dranginis (3) gets the offensive rebound, ripping the ball away from Kansas State's Nino Williams in the first half Saturday at KeyArena.