Nothing like a couple of breathers before a relaxing trip or two to open conference play.
Gonzaga, no stranger to tough scheduling, dials it up even higher over the next few weeks, beginning with tonight’s showdown against Oklahoma at the Arena in the annual Ronald McDonald House Charities Classic. After that, Gonzaga hops on a plane for Chicago to face Illinois on Saturday morning. Then the Bulldogs dive into West Coast Conference play on the road against Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego.
“Usually this time of year you get to really work on yourself a lot, but we don’t have that luxury,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We’ve kind of been thrown into the fire. We have a really tough stretch coming up, probably as difficult a stretch as we’ve ever faced at Gonzaga.”
First things first.
The Sooners (8-4) have run hot, thumping Arkansas and Arizona, and cold, with a three-game November losing streak and a 15-point setback against hot-shooting UTEP 10 days ago in their last outing.
“They’ve had a few tough losses, but they’re very capable,” GU senior guard Matt Bouldin said. “I know their back court is solid with (Willie) Warren and (Tony) Crocker, and they have a lot of young talent in the front court. We have to play hard and physical, like we did (against Eastern Washington on Monday).”
Warren, named the preseason national player of the year by The Sporting News, has scored at least 24 points in six of his 11 games. The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard averages 18.7 points, but the Sooners are at their best when he has company in the scorebook. He’s averaging 22.3 points in losses and 16.7 points in wins. The Sooners have also struggled on defense in four losses, allowing 82, 76, 100 and 89 points, respectively, to VCU, San Diego, Houston and UTEP.
“Back in Texas, I used to play against (Warren) all the time,” said Gonzaga sophomore guard Demetri Goodson, who grew up near Houston while Warren prepped in Fort Worth.
“He had 38 (points) one time and I had 33, but my team won by 20 in the championship (of an AAU tournament),” Goodson added. “He hit something like seven 3s. Whoever guards him is going to have a tough time. He can shoot, penetrate, just a really smooth player.”
Senior guard Tony Crocker has stepped up his play, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds in the last six games. Point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin (10.9 points, 4.6 assists) and 6-9, 290-pound Tiny Gallon (11.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg) have made big contributions as true freshmen.
“Warren is probably a lottery pick,” Few said. “Crocker has had a phenomenal career, Tiny was recruited by everybody and the point guard was recruited by everybody. We have to make sure we bring it because this is a team that can compete with anyone in the country.”
Warren, Mason-Griffin and Gallon were McDonald’s High School All-Americans.
The only schools with more McDonald’s All-Americans than Oklahoma are North Carolina (seven), Duke (six) and Villanova (five).