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November 30, 2008

Pargo leads No. 9 Gonzaga to Old Spice title

ORLANDO, Fla. Plane rides after losses, especially cross-country flights, are not the most enjoyable.

Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo saw to it Sunday night that his team's trip back to Spokane, Wash., will be fun-filled.

The 6-foot-2 senior, who tested the NBA draft waters before ultimately returning for his final season, was named MVP of the Old Spice Classic after posting 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals in the ninth-ranked Bulldogs' 83-74 victory over No. 12 Tennessee.

Now he can put his tray table down, unbuckle and smile.

"It's a lot more relaxed on the plane when you win," Pargo said. "Everyone has a laptop, you watch movies, relax, laugh. If we had lost there would have been no laughing and no movies. You pretty much think about what you could have done to win a game."

Pargo said on the way here he watched Kung Fu Panda and Robots. He figures on the way back he'll watch Iron Man again.

The film's title fits him. He played 31 minutes against the Vols and had only two turnovers. The Zags (5-0) committed only 14 while forcing Tennessee into 21. It was a far cry from a December meeting between the teams last year. The Vols won 82-72 and had only 10 turnovers to the Bulldogs' 18. Pargo had six, a number he remembered well.

"Last year we had maybe 20-23 turnovers, and I had six," Pargo said. "I wanted to control the game and make sure guys got the ball in the right areas. If we don't turn it over against a team that pressures and runs like they do you put yourself in a better position."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few concurred with his floor leader's assessment.

"We had 14 turnovers," Few said. "That's not horrible in a high-possession game. That's pretty good. By and large we handled their press and attacked it, which is what we wanted to do."

It's something the Zags couldn't have done without Pargo's return.

"He's a senior and he's one of the premier guards in the country," Few said. "This is why he came back to play in games like this and show that he's a lot better and more mature and understands the game better.

"He was able to hear things from the decision-makers at the next level that reassured him of what we're telling him, that he doesn't need to score to dominate a game. He needs to just quarterback this club. He scored when he needed to score when we were struggling there a little bit at the midpart of the first half. Then he handled their pressure and got our guys some great shots. Some of those wide-open 3s were because of him, simple setups. It's a great sign of maturity."

With Pargo breaking down Tennessee defenders at will, the Vols got lost on defense several times. The point guard found open men with their feet set behind the 3-point line, and they buried shot after shot, 11 3-pointers in 20 attempts.

Steven Gray came off the bench to sink four 3s and score a team-high 19 points. Matt Bouldin scored 17, including three 3s, and Josh Heytvelt had 15 with a pair of trifectas.

"We did not play great defense in this tournament," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "Gonzaga had only 14 turnovers. They handled our pressure very well. We got it handed to us tonight."

Few opted to play a 2-3 zone in the second half almost exclusively, and it stifled the Vols (5-1). They shot only 34.1 percent in the final 20 minutes and trailed by as much as 18 points with 5:09 to play before making a late run to make the final score look more respectable.

"Their zone bothered us," Pearl said. "We didn't respond well to it."

Few's team didn't use the zone much in the first half. But because a couple of players, including Pargo, were in foul trouble, the coach opened the second half with it. Tennessee's Renaldo Woolridge hit a 3 on the first possession, but Few stuck to it.

The Vols dribbled at it too much and lacked ball movement. Several possessions went late in the shot clock and bad shots were the main result.

"This team because of Jeremy communicating is a better zone team than the last couple of years," Few said. "It has looked good so far in the preseason. We have more confidence in it. Maybe we didn't have as much last year. We were kind of hiding some fouls. Jeremy and Austin [Daye] and Ira [Brown] had fouls, and we felt we needed to keep some zone. But it's a pretty good option for us. It took away some of their comfort they were feeling in the first half."

Gonzaga and Tennessee will meet again on Jan. 7 in Knoxville.

Maybe Pargo will watch a sequel on the flight over.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. ET and can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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