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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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Home arrow Sports arrow NO. 24 GONZAGA LOOMS AS EASTERN'S NEAR-HOPELESS CAUSE

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NO. 24 GONZAGA LOOMS AS EASTERN'S NEAR-HOPELESS CAUSE

Eastern Oregon coach Art Furman asked his basketball players Wednesday night to name some of the greatest upsets in sports history.

Their answers:

Villanova over Georgetown for the NCAA basketball title.

Chaminade over No. 1 Virginia

U.S. hockey team over the Soviet Union.

Furman thinks a Mountaineer win Friday over No. 24 Gonzaga would top all those on the list. It definitely would be a shocker, especially since the Division I Bulldogs have been to the Sweet Sixteen three years running and Eastern is a non-scholarship program.

But nobodys rolling over.

Its Gonzaga. We just want to play our hardest, junior forward Trevor Exline said. We just want to keep it respectable.

Respectable would be within 15 points, Exline said, but the last time these teams met, in November 1990, Gonzaga won 121-79, and that was before the Bulldogs became a national-caliber team.

Were going to go up there and give it our best, have fun, play hard, enjoy the game, senior point guard Jerome Toby said. We want to know that we laid it all out on the line. Whatever happens happens.

What will happen is the Mountaineers will at least be mentioned on ESPNs Sportscenter. Whoever leads Eastern in scoring will have their name displayed briefly.

Its definitely a fluff game for Gonzaga, which cracked the top 25 last week for the first time this season. The Bulldogs havent had an easy schedule, but theyve beaten 24th-ranked Texas and 16th-ranked Fresno State and have a 9-2 record.

Believe it or not, but Gonzaga has wanted to play Eastern Oregon for years. Furman has known Gonzaga coach Mark Few since the two were assistants at West Coast Conference schools, the University of Portland and Gonzaga, in the early 1990s. Eastern finally inked the deal this year and will receive $3,000 for the game.

The money and the chance to play an elite Division I school make the game attractive, not just to players but to fans. Eastern has been allocated 110 tickets and has distributed more than 100, Athletic Director Rob Cashell said.

What a great opportunity for guys to say they played against a top 25 team in the nation, Furman said.

Realistically, Eastern has no chance to win, although this was the team that last year trailed Evergreen State by 29 points in the second half and won. Furman likes to have at least one Division I school on the schedule each year.

People say, Why are you playing those guys, (but) wed love to play fluffs. There arent any fluffs at our level, and if there are, theyre on the East Coast where we cant go play them, Furman said. Were the fluffs.

Pat Perkins

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