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Still a lot of questions about the Zags


So what do you think now?

I’m sure if you are reading this you saw GU play Wednesday night either in person or on TV. If not Wednesday night, then some time in the Zags’ first three games.

What do you think?

Even though Baylor exposed some of this group’s weaknesses – depth inside, the up-and-down performances of young players, perimeter defense – the Zags dug out a 78-69 win basically on the strength of their defense and balance.

Even with new scoring focus Josh Heytvelt struggling his way to a 4-for-11 night from the field, even with Derek Raivio having the same stat line, GU still hit 54 percent of its shots.

Because everyone else was above 50 percent from the floor. Jeremy Pargo, 4 of 6. Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, 5 of 7. Sean Mallon, 4 of 8. Reserves Abdullahi Kuso (coach Mark Few’s pick for his team’s MVP Wednesday) and David Pendergraft, perfect on four shots.

What do you think of such shooting?

And the line? The Zags were 26 of 32. And 81 percent is about all a coach could ask for.

Baylor’s Scott Drew would have taken half that from the field. The Zags held his team to 25 percent shooting in the first half and 36 percent for the game – which is better than Rice shot on Tuesday night against GU (29 percent).

“We couldn’t put the ball in the ocean,” is how Drew described his team’s shooting, but the ocean doesn’t play defense – unless it’s a hurricane.

The Zags aren’t that impressive defensively yet, but they are closer than they were last year.

“I thought we played three really good halves of basketball these last two days,” Few said. “By and large, I was really pleased with our defense the whole tournament here.”

And it’s going to take a well disciplined, strong, tall, athletic bunch to shoot well against them. Just like North Carolina, GU’s opponent next Wednesday in the New York semifinals of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off.

What do you think of that?

The Tar Heels, ranked second in the nation, rallied from a halftime deficit to stop Winthrop 73-66 and move on to New York, where they’ll represent by far GU’s biggest challenge of the season.

“If you’re a basketball player, that’s what you live for,” said Raivio, who still scored a game-high 18 points Wednesday, thanks to a 10-for-10 night at the line, “a big game on a big stage.”

Not that the Arena is a small stage. It’s just not Madison Square Garden and a national television audience.

Will the still-awfully-young Zags be able to perform in front of the bright lights? Or will they look like the deer we’ve all been seeing lying beside our local roads?

What do you think?

“I think as coach said earlier, there are a lot of questions that people had about this team,” said Alitidor-Cespedes. “I think it’s a learning process from now on, but, if we keep the right attitude, I think this team has the potential to be as good as any team we’ve had here.”

Not even Few is sure yet what type of team this is, I’m guessing. But he wants to find out.

“It’s a great opportunity especially for such a young, unproven group, to come in here and win two games against two very good teams,” he said. “To play in the semis of the NIT, that’s as good as it gets.

“Now the challenge is to go there and to continue to play the way we have been playing.”

An opportunity. A challenge. A trip to New York.

What do you think?

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Jim Meehan (@srjimm) Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Sean Kramer Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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Vince Grippi is the online producer for SportsLink, a product of The Spokesman-Review.

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