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Bulldogs set to face Giacoletti’s old team

Gonzaga and Utah will spend New Year's Eve on the court for the second straight year. GU won 61-59 last year in Spokane. The rematch is Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST in Salt Lake City.

For the second straight year, GU assistant Ray Giacoletti will handle the scouting report for this game. Makes sense, given that Giacoletti recruited 8 of the 10 players in Utah's rotation when he was the Utes' head coach from 2005-2007.

Read on for an unedited game preview.

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Before talking matchups and strategy, Gonzaga’s first order of business tonight is simply to bring energy and effort.

Those two elements were sorely lacking when the Bulldogs lost to Portland State on Dec. 23. No. 16 Gonzaga (8-3) returns to the court against Utah (7-5) at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, a year to the day after the Bulldogs edged the Utes 61-59 in Spokane.

“We definitely have to come out harder than we did against Portland State,” said senior post Josh Heytvelt, who had 16 points and six rebounds in last year’s win over Utah.

The scouting reports on these teams probably haven’t changed a great deal. Both teams returned the majority of their key players. In fact, Gonzaga assistant coach Ray Giacoletti, who was Utah’s head coach for three years (2005-2007), recruited seven of the Utes’ top eight scorers.

Center Luke Nevill was the first player Giacoletti signed at Utah. The 7-foot-2 senior from Perth, Australia, leads Utah in scoring (16.9) and rebounding (8.3). He’s shooting 61.4 percent from the floor. Nevill, who ranks 13th on the school’s all-time scoring list, had eight of his 15 points in the closing minutes against Gonzaga last year.

“They have their entire team back and these are all the seniors that Ray recruited,” said Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, who stayed home Tuesday to be with his wife Marcy, who is pregnant and a couple days past her due date. Few is scheduled to fly to Utah today. The Bulldogs arrived in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.

The Utes have four players averaging in double figures, including Tyler Kepkay and Shaun Green, 3-point threats that come off the bench. Utah’s bench has outscored opponents 298-127.

Gonzaga’s bench is without Robert Sacre (fractured foot). The 7-foot center’s appointment with a Seattle foot specialist was postponed because of inclement weather Monday. Sacre traveled with the team but obviously won’t play.

Utah has an impressive home schedule. The Utes beat Oregon and lost to Cal. LSU visits on Tuesday. Gonzaga continues its difficult non-conference slate, with most of its biggest tests on the road or on neutral courts.

“They just have a terrific combination of talent,” Utah coach Jim Boylen said. “(Few) may be one of the best in the country at getting his guys to play loose, in a good way, yet within the system.

“They’re very similar to us right now in that they’ve had a very difficult schedule. They’ve

lost a game or two that they thought they could win. When you have a schedule like the one they have, you have to play well every night, it’s difficult.”

Utah, picked fourth in the Mountain West Conference preseason poll, has lost games by 1, 2, 3 and 4 points. The Utes were blown out by Oklahoma 70-52.

“They’ve got a bunch of great shooters, they have some athleticism on the wings and their post is a stud,” Gonzaga junior guard Matt Bouldin said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”

 




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