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Back with a ton of unedited cut-and-paste material to post. Read on for more.

(I’ll post John Blanchette’s Q & A with Rev. Robert Spitzer and Blanchette’s profile of Akron coach Keith Dambrot in the morning).

 


First, here’s a look at the matchups…

COACHES

Gonzaga: Mark Few, 262-65, 10th season

Postseason: 10 NCAAs, 9-9 record.

Akron: Keith Dambrot, 115-50, 5th season

Postseason: 2 NITs, 2-2 record

The NCAA tournament is old hat for Few and Gonzaga. Few’s teams have made 10 straight trips and Gonzaga is making its 11 consecutive appearance. Under Few, Gonzaga has made three Sweet Sixteens (2000, 2001 and 2006) and the second round three times (2003-2005). Gonzaga had lost its last three NCAA games.

Dambrot has guided the Zips to three straight MAC title games, but this is the first year they earned the conference’s automatic berth. This is Akron’s first NCAA trip since 1986.

 

BACKCOURT

GU senior Jeremy Pargo, junior Matt Bouldin and senior wing Micah Downs have a considerable edge in experience over Akron counterparts Steve McNees, a sophomore, and Darryl Roberts, a junior who played 12 minutes a game last season. Freshman Anthony ‘Humpty’ Hitchens will see extended minutes, if his sprained ankle suffered in the MAC tournament allows. Gonzaga will probably try to use its size advantage with Pargo or Bouldin to post up the 5-9 Hitchens. McNees found his shooting stroke in the MAC tournament, making 61.1 percent of his 3-point attempts and averaging 10.2 points to earn All-Tournament honors.

Akron forces nearly 18 turnovers a game (6-8 forward Nate Linhart has 62 steals). Gonzaga has had turnover-prone stretches, but not lately. The Zags had single-digit turnovers in four of the last six games.

 

FRONTCOURT

The Zips typically start three forwards, all in the 6-7 to 6-8 range, but the biggest matchup problem is probably 6-7 Brett McKnight off the bench. He averages 11.4 points per game despite only playing 21.3 minutes. He operates inside and outside (87 3-point attempts). His brother Chris, is 20 pounds lighter, but leads the team in free throw attempts (150). Mike Bardo, at 6-10, is the tallest Zip but he only plays an average of 15 minutes.

Gonzaga will have a size advantage with 6-11 Josh Heytvelt and 6-11 Austin Daye. The Zips usually don’t encounter front lines with Gonzaga’s length and they could find it difficult to finish and keep the Bulldogs off the glass.

 

Here is a short GU notebook…

 

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

PORTLAND – Gonzaga senior forward Josh Heytvelt has seen this type of dedication from his older sister, Heather, before. He hopes to see it again next week.

Heather caught a Wednesday flight from South Korea and was scheduled to arrive in Portland this morning in time for the Gonzaga-Akron game at 4:25 at the Rose Garden.

“Her husband has a government job over there so she’s lived there off and on for the last 2½ years,” Heytvelt said. “They were in Clarkston for about a month at Christmas-time and she’s coming this weekend. Then she’s flying back to Korea and if we win these two, she’ll fly back for the next round.

“She’s a diehard.”

Want further proof?

“I don’t remember if it was her first child or second, but when I was in high school (at Clarkston) she gave birth and a day or two later she drove across the state to watch us play in the state championships,” Heytvelt said. “She’s probably my biggest fan, next to my dad.”

New threads

Gonzaga, along with Duke, Memphis and Michigan State, will be one of four schools in the NCAA tournament wearing specially designed uniforms and, if the players choose to, customized shoes through Nike. The Bulldogs wore the uniforms at the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, but the shoes weren’t quite ready.

The base layer has basketball-specific padding without restricting movement, according to Nike. The uniform tops provide zoned cooling and weigh 31 percent less than GU’s regular jerseys. Gonzaga players assisted with the design of the shoes.

Senior guard Jeremy Pargo said the team split into two groups at two different computers to come up with ideas for the shoes.

“One group at one end and one at the other,” Pargo said. “Who do you think won?”

“Your group?” guessed a reporter.

“Good choice,” Pargo said.

Akron also has a partnership with Nike. The Zips’ shoes, uniforms, warmups and accessories are licensed under Nike and LeBron James’ ‘LJ23’ trademarks.

“Our shoe deal with (James), it’s just us and Ohio State,” said Akron coach Keith Dambrot, who coached LeBron James in high school.

 

Finally, here’s my GU-Akron game preview…

 

 

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

PORTLAND – Gonzaga has been down this road before. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs are facing a defensive-minded opponent who prefers to keep the score in the 50s or 60s.

Think Washington State, San Diego, Santa Clara.

Think Akron, which tried to slip comfortably into the underdog role for its first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament matchup against the Bulldogs at 4:25 today at the Rose Garden. The winner advances in the South Region to face the winner of Illinois-Western Kentucky.

“For those fans of Akron, (after) 23 years of heartbreak, to finally make it back (into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1986), we just want to keep it going for their sake and ours as long as possible,” senior forward Nate Linhart said.

Gonzaga has some NCAA tournament heartbreak of its own it wants to rectify. The Bulldogs have dropped their last three NCAA games, including first-round exits the last two years. GU was seeded seventh and lost to No. 10 Davidson in the Wildcats’ home state of North Carolina last season. The year before, the Bulldogs overcame the suspension of Josh Heytvelt to make the NCAAs, but were quickly sent home by Indiana.

“It feels a lot better than the last two years,” senior forward Micah Downs said. “We’ve got everybody healthy and we have everyone playing really well. We finished conference out the way we wanted to and we’re in Portland, which is just a couple hours from Spokane. We’ve got a good seed (No. 4) and a good draw. We’re definitely excited about it.”

The Bulldogs (26-5) are favored by 12.5 points, the largest margin of the four No. 4 seeds, but head coach Mark Few found plenty to worry about with the 14th-seeded Zips (23-12).

“I don’t think in 20 years of watching tape I’ve seen a team that plays that hard,” Few said. “That’s going to be a real challenge – to match their intensity and physicalness and how much energy they play with.”

Linhart said the Zips have no choice.

“Coach (Keith Dambrot) is constantly reminding us we’re not very skilled or talented,” said Linhart, glancing at Dambrot on his right. “So we have to find other ways to win. Playing hard goes hand in hand with that.”

The Bulldogs enter with a nine-game winning streak that includes flattening Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s by a combined 60 points at the WCC tournament.

Dambrot said his undersized club has little margin for error.

“The biggest thing is we have to make shots to win the game,” he said. “We have to defend like we’ve never defended before.”

Akron crowds passing lanes and forces an average of nearly 18 turnovers per game.

“They’re great at forcing turnovers, so we need to slow down and execute,” Bulldogs junior guard Matt Bouldin said. “I think they foul a lot, that’s what I’ve been told, so we need to be strong with the ball.”

Gonzaga was successful in speeding the tempo against slower-paced teams such as WSU, but it faces a slightly different challenge with the Zips.

“They want to push tempo on defense and slow it down on offense,” GU sophomore forward Austin Daye said.

Both teams hope to take advantage of matchups. Gonzaga frontcourt players often will be 3-4 inches taller than Akron’s, but the Zags will have to defend agile forwards.

“The thing that concerns me is they’re so big inside,” Akron forward Chris McKnight said. “We’ve faced big guys all year and rebounding definitely has been a factor for us. If we play like we did at the end of the year at the MAC tournament, that can all be nullified.”

Heytvelt said defense will be the key if Gonzaga wants to continue its roll from the WCC tournament.

“We’ve been doing a better job of getting down and guarding guys and not letting them get comfortable,” he said. “I have a lot more experience doing that, even from guarding Austin and Ira (Brown) at practice. We’re pretty solid, guarding small or big guys.”

 

 

 

 

 


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Jim Allen (@srjimallen) Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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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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John Blanchette (@SRjblanchette) John Blanchette is a freelance writer who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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