Gonzaga-Saint Mary's has been the WCC's best matchup for the better part of the last decade and early on in the 2013-14 conference season it appears nothing has changed.
The rivals collide Thursday at the MAC with the winner remaining unbeaten in WCC play (LMU and Pepperdine are both 2-0). Sam Dower Jr. (lower back) will be a game-day decision. He wasn't able to do much at Wednesday's practice.
GU-related copy for the S-R Four Corners page Thursday
FIRST, A GAME GLANCE...
COMING UP: Thursday vs. Saint Mary’s, 6 (ESPN2); Saturday vs. Pacific, 5 (KHQ/Root)
OUTLOOK: Saint Mary’s opened the season with seven straight home wins and nine overall before a disappointing 0-3 showing at the Diamond Head Classic. The Gaels rebounded to edge Pacific 88-80 in Stockton as all five starters reached double digits. Center Brad Waldow, a career 64-percent shooter, is averaging 16.8 points and 7 rebounds. Stephen Holt, the replacement for Matthew Dellavedova at point guard, is averaging 13.2 points and 5.5 assists, third in the WCC.
Pacific has seven seniors in its 10-man rotation. Guard Andrew Bock averages a team-high 12.6 points.
Gonzaga junior guard Kevin Pangos (turf toe) admits he’s not at full speed, but it would be hard to tell judging by his production.
Pangos has scored in double figures in all six games since injuring his right big toe in practice in early December. In that span, Pangos also posted his career high for rebounds (nine vs. New Mexico State) and has 26 assists with just five turnovers.
“I’m just trying to be smarter, really,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to turn the corner the same way. When I drive I have to change speeds more, pick my spots.”
Pangos’ toe had been making progress when he played with it taped up against Santa Clara. One wrong step later and “it was just pain, re-aggravated (it). Stage 1 again,” he said. That prompted a return of “the contraption,” a protective brace/pad he wears inside his shoe.
“I got a foul (against San Francisco) because I pushed a guy,” he said, smiling, “because I didn’t want him stepping on my foot.”
Asked if Pangos is playing at roughly 70 percent, Gonzaga coach Mark Few suggested, “That’s probably at the top end.”
Senior guard David Stockton is climbing Gonzaga’s all-time steals and assists lists. He has 337 career assists, three away from passing Steven Gray for seventh. Matt Santangelo ranks first with 668. Stockton’s father, John, is fourth with 554.
Stockton has 138 steals, two from surpassing Geoff Goss for seventh. John Stockton is No. 1 with 262.
LASTLY, GU-SMC GAME PREVIEW...
By Jim Meehan
It went largely unnoticed but Gonzaga walk-on freshman guard Dustin Triano suited up for the first time for Monday’s game against San Francisco.
Triano is scheduled to redshirt but he’s on call with Gonzaga’s depleted roster. It’s symbolic of the Bulldogs’ all-hands-on deck approach to dealing with injuries to their top three scorers: Kevin Pangos (turf toe), Sam Dower Jr. (lower back, missed last two games) and Gary Bell Jr. (broken hand, out 4-6 weeks).
Gonzaga coach Mark Few anticipated a lighter walk-through and shooting practice Tuesday and a “semi-live” practice Wednesday in preparation for Thursday's showdown with Saint Mary’s, which has emerged as Gonzaga’s primary WCC rival in the last decade. Dower will be a game-day decision.
“We’re getting low on bodies,” Few said. “This is a really crazy stretch with four games in seven days, but it is what it is so we have to deal with it.”
Same goes for the injury list.
“I certainly can’t remember anything like this; I mean it’s you’re top three guys hurt,” Few said. “And one guy (Pangos) is playing with heart and guts right now. It’s just unbelievable but you do this long enough you end up with something like that. I’ve had other colleagues and buddies that have had to deal with it.”
Saint Mary’s will be short-handed on the bench. Head coach Randy Bennett is serving a five-game suspension as part of NCAA sanctions. Fourth-year assistant Eran Ganot is the acting head coach.
The Bulldogs (12-2, 2-0) successfully dealt with Santa Clara and San Francisco, but the competition level rises with Saint Mary’s (10-3, 1-0), followed by WCC newcomer Pacific (9-3, 0-1) on Saturday.
GU has received solid contributions from newly minted starters Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis as well as the bench, led by Angel Nunez. Sophomore center Przemek Karnowski is coming off one of his best all-around games as a Zag.
“I worry every game of my coaching career,” Few said. “Some guys can hit in the 9-spot but not in the 3-spot. We’re going to be in this for the long haul, undermanned for a while, but for two nights, so far so good. Now we’ll get tested in a very different way.”
The Zags and Gaels have played for the last five WCC Tournament titles with GU winning three. Gonzaga is 65-2 in conference games since the 2004 opening of the McCarthey Athletic Center, one of those losses coming to Saint Mary’s in 2011. The Gaels snapped Gonzaga’s streak of 11 straight WCC titles in 2012.
Some expected Saint Mary’s to take a step back after losing Matthew Dellavedova, the school’s all-time leader in scoring, assists and 3-pointers. Stephen Holt has transitioned from shooting guard to point guard to replace Dellavedova, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Gaels have an interior presence with center Brad Waldow and surround him with capable shooters. Saint Mary’s leads the WCC in rebounding margin (plus 6.1).
“Dellavedova kind of dominated the ball last year so you’re going to see a lot of different options,” GU guard David Stockton said. “They’re tough and they’re our rivals so we have to go after them.”