Zags, Eagles square off
Both teams look to leave recent failures behind
Two teams looking to get back in sync offensively collide tonight at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Eastern Washington is coming off a three-game stretch where “we kept missing shots,” head coach Kirk Earlywine said. Gonzaga followed up a 103-91 win over Davidson with a frightful 41-point showing in a blowout loss to Duke in New York City.
Tip-off for the first GU-EWU clash since 2006 is at 6. Gonzaga has won the last 21 meetings.
The Eagles (4-9) have dropped four straight, but the last three fall in a different category than a 73-70 road loss to Nevada on Dec. 17. In that one, EWU shot 49 percent from the floor but lost when Nevada’s Brandon Fields hit a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left.
The Eagles were swamped by BYU 91-34 before going 0-2 at the Hoop TV Las Vegas Classic last week. EWU made 28 percent of its shots in becoming Chicago State’s first win this season against a Division I opponent. The next day, the Eagles shot 38 percent in falling to previously winless Jackson State.
“We actually got better shots in Vegas, we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Earlywine said. “I was happy with our effort level and intensity level. We guarded and rebounded. We simply couldn’t make a basket.
“It’s a fine line where you try to make sure your guys are shooting it confidently and sometimes the more you address it the bigger the issue becomes. But it’s the elephant in the room and it’s hard to get past that.”
The 25th-ranked Zags (8-3), who entered the Duke game averaging 79.5 points on 49.3 percent shooting, were limited to 27.8 percent from the field by the Blue Devils.
“We actually did some good things,” associate head coach Leon Rice said. “We guarded pretty well, but we put too much pressure on the defense when you can’t score.”
Duke’s defense was a factor, Rice said, but some of GU’s problems were self-inflicted with numerous misses from close range, 10-of-21 free-throw shooting and 18 turnovers.
Following tonight’s game, EWU returns to Big Sky play against Sacramento State on New Year’s Eve. It’ll be the Eagles’ first home game since Dec. 12.
“To be honest, I’m more worried about my team than Gonzaga,” Earlywine said. “I’m not trying to downplay the game or disrespect Gonzaga at all, but we have to deal with our offensive issues that have cropped up the last nine days.”
Gonzaga has tough non-conference dates – Oklahoma on Thursday and Illinois on Saturday – before opening its WCC schedule at Portland on Jan. 9.