I’ve posted the Gonzaga-Western Kentucky game preview and a look at the matchups below in unedited form. Read of for more and check back later for a notebook.
First, the preview….
It’s a different season, a different cast of characters – at least on
Gonzaga and WKU collided in the opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout last year with the Bulldogs pulling out a 74-71 win. The teams meet again tonight at 5:10 at the Rose Garden with the winner moving on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
There weren’t many who expected WKU to make it to the Sweet 16 a year ago. There weren’t many who expected the Hilltoppers, minus a NBA first-round pick and another talented guard who is playing professionally overseas, to do much this season.
But here they are again, knocking on the door of another Sweet 16 with the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (27-5) standing in the doorway.
“It’s totally different,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Last year they pressed us in a variety of ways. (Tyrone) Brazelton had the ball in his hands a lot and they ran everything pretty much around Courtney Lee (who is now with the Orlando Magic), as well they should have.
What hasn’t changed is the 12th-seeded Hilltoppers (25-8) again feature a talented backcourt. Instead of Brazelton and Lee, an athletic 6-foot-5 wing, WKU relies on Sun Belt Conference player of the year Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter. They combine for nearly 30 points, eight assists and seven rebounds per game and they’re interchangeable at point guard.
“Once again, they’ve got great guards,” Gonzaga senior Jeremy Pargo said. “They do a lot of things with variations of ball screens and they really shoot the ball well.”
Slaughter scored 13 points against GU in
“Those other two (Brazelton and Lee) are hard to forget, but I remember both of these guys,” Bulldogs guard Matt Bouldin said. “Slaughter was younger, but he was always solid.
The two rarely leave the floor. They both played roughly 36 minutes in Thursday’s 76-72 win over No. 5 Illinois that might have been an upset according to seeding, but not how it played out on the floor. The victory landed
“We really have a chip on our shoulder from the beginning of the season when people didn’t think we were going to do much this year,” Slaughter said. “We were picked to finish third in our division. We keep that in the back of our heads every time we play.”
The Hilltoppers are undersized on the interior, but they’ve compensated with strength and athleticism. Jeremy Evans, a slender 6-foot-9 post, has chipped in double figures points in four of the last five games. Sergio Kerusch, a 6-5 small forward has 10 double-doubles. Steffphon Pettigrew, also 6-5 but a stout 225 pounds, has worked effectively inside and stung
After a 28-point loss to
“For them to do what they did to
Gonzaga would appear to have an edge inside with 6-11, 260-pound Josh Heytvelt and 6-11 Austin Daye.
“We just have to do what we did in the second half (against Akron), run pick and rolls, certain post plays to get the defender on the high side and just be physical posting up against a smaller player,” Heytvelt said.
Despite considerable roster turnover, first-year coach Ken McDonald guided WKU to its 40th conference title and its 21st NCAA tournament appearance.
“They’ve got four pros in their starting lineup,” McDonald said of the Zags. “They shoot the ball extremely well, they’re long and athletic. I imagine they’ll try to go inside and we have to keep Pargo out of the lane.”
And now, the matchups…
Gonzaga: Mark Few, 263-65, 10th season
Postseason: 10 NCAAs, 10-9 record.
Postseason: First appearance as head coach
The Zags’ win over
McDonald, a WKU assistant from 1998-2003, was an assistant for four years at
Gonzaga’s Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin combined for 21 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers while Micah Downs added 15 points against
The Hilltoppers are guard-driven. Junior A.J. Slaughter scored 52 points in three games to earn Sun Belt tournament MVP honors. His slashing drives result in frequent trips to the foul line, where he had a team-high 126 attempts. Running mate Orlando Mendez-Valdez was the Sun Belt regular season player of the year. He made 94 3-pointers, pulled down 4.2 rebounds per game, dished out a team-high 133 assists and scored 13.9 points a game.
Gonzaga has a distinct size advantage. Josh Heytvelt (22 points, eight boards vs.
WKU is undersized, but effective. Sergio Kerusch, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, continued his fine play of late with 14 points and 11 boards in WKU’s win over