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GU updates from Memphis

Media day has come and gone, so I'll post a couple of things rather than wait 'til later and have one extremely long post.

Click below for the GU-UNC matchups and also for an unedited notebook.

Back with the game preview in about 90 minutes.


First the matchups:



Gonzaga: Mark Few, 264-65, 10th year


North Carolina: Roy Williams: 172-37, 6th year; 590-138, 21st year overall


Williams ranks No. 1 in winning percentage (81) among active coaches with at least five years of experience. Few is second at 80.2. Few has guided four teams to the Sweet 16 and has an 11-9 NCAA record. UNC is 17-4 in the NCAAs under Williams, advancing to three regional finals, two Final Fours and winning the 2005 national title.





Great matchups abound in this game, especially in the backcourt with Jeremy Pargo-Ty Lawson, Matt Bouldin-Danny Green and Micah Downs-Wayne Ellington. Lawson, the ACC player of the year, has been slowed by a toe injury, but he had 23 points in a win over LSU last Saturday and he’s had five days to rest. Demetri ‘Meech’ Goodson, GU’s fastest player, will probably see time on Lawson, who triggers UNC’s lethal transition game. All three UNC guards are deadly perimeter shooters, ranging from Ellington’s 41.9 percent to Lawson’s 50 on 3-pointers. Gonzaga also has proven 3-point shooters in Bouldin (44 percent) and Downs (38.3). Pargo has made 4 of 5 3-pointers in two NCAA games.





Two more intriguing matchups: Josh Heytvelt-Tyler Hansbrough and Austin Daye-Deon Thompson. Hansbrough is a relentless worker whose payoff is often at the foul line. He’s made more free throws than any player in NCAA history. He’s added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, making 9 of 20 this season after connecting on three 3s in his first three seasons. Thompson is a steady contributor at 10.9 points and 6 rebounds per game. Athletic freshman Ed Davis could be a factor off UNC’s bench. The 6-10 Davis has scored in double figures in two of the last three games and he’s a force defensively. Many expect Davis to develop into an excellent NBA prospect in the next year or two.

And here's a notebook:

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

MEMPHIS – Chris Shackleford sat in the front row in his Gonzaga sweatshirt, outnumbered by fans of Syracuse, Oklahoma and North Carolina as the four teams in the South Regional held practices Thursday afternoon at FedExForum.

Shackleford is used to it. As a Memphis native, Shackleford’s affinity for Gonzaga basketball always draws curious stares from friends and classmates.

“My great grandma is the only who really got me started watching Gonzaga,” the 17-year-old high school student said. “She’s always liked them, from the time they first made the (NCAA) tournament in 1995.”

Shackleford’s devotion deepened when the 1999 Zags made an improbable run to the Elite Eight before falling to Connecticut in Phoenix. “Casey Calvary’s tip in,” he said, nodding his head in remembrance of Calvary’s game-winning basket against Florida in the Sweet 16.

Shackleford attended Gonzaga’s road games against Memphis in 2005 and 2008, only to see the Zags lose to the hometown team.

“My classmates are all Memphis fans,” he said. “If Gonzaga had won, it (the reaction from classmates) probably would have been a little worse, but they lost both times.”

That hasn’t slowed Shackleford’s Gonzaga shirt collection (15 and counting). His family ordered a special package to be able to watch as many Gonzaga games on television as possible.

“I like Josh Heytvelt, all the starters really,” said Shackleford, who will sit in the third deck at FedExForum for tonight’s game against North Carolina. “I think they’re going to win.”

Teammates, now opponents

Back in high school, Gonzaga’s Austin Daye, from Irvine, Calif., and North Carolina’s Deon Thompson, from Torrance, were members of the same Southern California traveling AAU team.

“It was just when he was starting to get recruited,” Daye said. “He’s a good player and a good kid, too. He’s shed a lot of weight and he’s in very good shape. He’s one of their best athletes.”

Daye has shed a few ounces the last couple weeks. In Gonzaga’s first two NCAA tournament wins, Daye didn’t wear the knee brace that he’s sported this season after hurting his right knee at the LeBron James Skills Academy last summer. Not many people noticed, he said, because his shorts are so long they usually cover the brace.

“I’ve been pleading with the doctors to not make me wear it. For so long I’ve been doing well without it in shoot-arounds and walk-throughs,” he said. “I feel a lot freer when I’m running and jumping.”

Initially feared to be a torn ACL, Daye suffered a tiny tear and bone bruise that eventually healed with rest and physical therapy.

“It hasn’t bothered me once,” he said.

Retro photo

The text messages started arriving on Alex Hernandez’s cell phone Thursday morning. The Memphis Commercial Appeal ran a photo of Hernandez and teammate Mark Spink from a 2001 NCAA game at the Pyramid in Memphis as part of an article on the city’s tournament history. GU knocked off Virginia and Indiana State to advance to the Sweet 16.

“I haven’t seen the picture yet, but I’m getting text messages, even from people back home,” said Hernandez, now an administrative assistant with the basketball program. “It was the best time of my life and an exciting time for the program. The program was up and coming and for us to come in and win two games – we did what we needed to do to move on.”

Hernandez said his cell phone wasn’t working inside the FedExForum, but he planned on calling Spink after returning to the team hotel “to reminisce a bit.”

Rand McPargo

There’s been some speculation locally that Gonzaga will be the house favorite at FexExForum tonight. It’s not just because the Zags are underdogs to North Carolina, but that they’ve played here twice in their ongoing series with Memphis. And the fact that both programs operate as Top 25 perennials from outside major conferences may have Tigers fans pulling for the Bulldogs.

“I don’t know about that,” said GU guard Jeremy Pargo, “but I hope so. It would be big if they are, because there are a lot of them here.”

Will that make it easier for the Zags to play here?

“You’ve got to play wherever you’re at,” Pargo said, “whether you’re here or in Nova Scotia.”

Nova Scotia?

“It’s the farthest thing I could think of,” he shrugged.

A gentle veto

Gonzaga senior forward Josh Heytvelt was asked about the pressures facing the fourth-seeded Bulldogs and top-seeded Tar Heels, who are favored by 8.5 points.

“They’re expected to win this game, the President has them winning the whole thing, that’s pressure enough,” Heytvelt said.

Asked if he thought President Obama made a mistake on his bracket, Heytvelt showed extreme diplomacy. “I’m not going to say the President did anything wrong,” he said, carefully choosing his words. “I just don’t want to go against our President.”




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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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