It’s nearly impossible to talk about basketball post-Jan. 26 without talking about Kobe Bryant. His imprint on all sports culture is indelible, and his legacy touched all corners of the globe.
USF unknowingly began its patchwork with Bryant when his uncle, John “Chubby” Cox, played for the Dons between 1976 and 1978. USF was the winningest team in the 1976-77 college basketball season and was ranked No. 1 in the polls for over two months (the only team in the West Coast Conference [WCC] to reach No. 1 since Gonzaga). Chubby’s son, and Kobe’s cousin, John Cox, played for the Dons from 1999-2005 and scored 1,540 points during that time.
In this spirit, spectators at the War Memorial Gymnasium honored those who lost their lives in the crash on Jan. 26 with 24 seconds of silence prior to tip-off.
The Dons were coming off their largest margin of victory in a WCC match in almost five years, having defeated the University of San Diego (USD) Toreros 69-44 at USD. Charles Minlend put in another strong performance and finished with his second career double-double. This had USF winning five of their last six games and found them 11-3 at home entering the sold-out matchup against the No. 2 ranked team in the country, the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The War Memorial atmosphere was absolutely electric, and the Dons repaid that energy with a scrappy first half of play. USF forced Gonzaga into eight turnovers, out-rebounded the Bulldogs 19-16, and scored 10 second-chance points to their opponent’s zero. Jordan Ratinho’s 12 points, and Minlend’s 10, countered Gonzaga’s highest-scorer, Filip Petrusev — who finished the half with 15.
The score was 43-35 at the half and was only the third time this season that the Bulldogs trailed after 20 minutes. After the game, head coach Todd Golden said, “I thought our game plan was really good. Obviously, going into halftime with the eight-point lead meant we were doing the right things.”
Big men Jimbo Lull and Josh Kunen were in foul trouble for much of the game. Lull fouled out with 7:35 remaining. Their presence would ultimately be missed as the game was knotted up nine times with 10 lead changes. However, the Dons managed a tenacious one-point lead, at 76-75, with 1:55 left in the game.
From there, Gonzaga would inch ahead on an 8-3 finish with Corey Kispert taking charge offensively and quality defensive plays by Admon Gilder and Drew Timme. The game ended with Gonzaga winning 83-79.
“I think we did a really good job,” Golden said. “I thought we competed really hard. We stepped up to the challenge and I thought our guys did a good job delivering. I’m proud of our effort.”
Golden then shared his own thoughts about Bryant. “He was an incredible competitor and I think what made him unique was not simply that he was a great talent, but he matched that talent with equal work ethic. He was a guy a lot of our players looked up to and we talked a lot about him this week as someone we can hopefully try to embody within our work ethic and our approach to the game of basketball.”
This is a consistent theme regarding Bryant. It’s one that my own dad instilled in me, in part because of Kobe’s example — a proud “Girl Dad.” Whether I was playing soccer on the pitch with the 10-year-old boys (and beating them) or reaching the championship game in football as one of two girls on the field, I’ve never known anything different.
I grew up a Lakers fan. I remember going to the Staples Center to watch my first playoff game on April 23, 2008. Although I wore my Pau Gasol jersey, I was dazzled by Kobe’s 49-point outburst and a memory I will never forget.
In a week where all that we’ve been talking about has emanated from the game of basketball, let’s keep talking about it. Just like we do.