Steven Gray is young, enjoys basketball and he’s used to playing 30-plus minutes per game.
When Gonzaga was in the midst of three games in three days in Maui in November, Gray said the experience reminded him of AAU tournaments as a youngster. His team often played multiple games in one day and Gray was quite comfortable simply lining up and competing.
So the notion of polishing off an impressive victory over Oklahoma on Thursday night in Spokane and taking the court against Illinois 36 hours later in Chicago doesn’t ruffle the junior guard.
“Our coaches do a great job of preparing us and getting us dialed in,” Gray said after scoring 18 points in 34 minutes against the Sooners. “The beauty of this is all through Maui it was quick turnaround, quick turnaround. Now all we have to do is throw in the travel part.”
Gonzaga (10-3) hopped on a charter flight Friday morning and squeezed in limited preparation time for its clash with Illinois (9-4) this morning at a sold-out United Center. Illinois is 32-8, including 11-2 under seventh-year head coach Bruce Weber, in United Center games since 1994.
“You play it like an NBA schedule,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “Just show up and play hard. The Xs and Os will take care of themselves.”
The results weren’t pretty the last time Gonzaga faced a nationally-televised showdown against a high-profile opponent in an NBA arena. Duke blasted Gonzaga 76-41 two weeks ago in Madison Square Garden, but the Bulldogs, ranked No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, have bounced back with wins over Eastern Washington and Oklahoma.
Illinois has three wins over ranked teams, including an overtime victory against No. 25 Northwestern in the Big Ten opener for both teams Wednesday. In that one, 7-foot-1 junior center Mike Tisdale had a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds. Junior forward Mike Davis added 20 points and 17 boards.
Junior guard Demetri McCamey leads the Illini at 13.7 points and 5.6 assists per game. Freshmen guards D.J. Richardson (10.9 points) and Brandon Paul (10.2) give the Illini five starters averaging double figures.
The Illini failed to reach 70 points in losses to Utah, Bradley, Georgia and Missouri. In nine wins, they’ve scored at least 76 points and they are averaging 84.9 points per game.
Kyle Dranginis, a 6-foot-4 junior guard from Skyview High in Nampa, Idaho, has made an oral commitment to Gonzaga, according to his father, Tim. Dranginis will join the Bulldogs in 2011.
Dranginis averaged 10.9 points, 5.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds last year as Skyview went undefeated and won the 4A state championship. He’s averaging 21 points this season for the top-ranked Hawks.
Tim Dranginis said his son had scholarship offers from Utah, Utah State and Boise State. Among the other schools showing interest in Dranginis were Notre Dame, Washington State, Portland and San Diego.
“He has amazing court vision,” Skyview coach Aaron Sanders said. “For that reason he’s a really good passer, but he’s also able to see spots to drive to the basket. He’s playing with a lot more maturity (this season). He started for us as a freshman and he was able to do things other kids’ couldn’t. He’s really good all around. He can shoot it, he handles it well and passes well.”