They used words like “ecstatic” and “phenomenal.”
The grade is incomplete because two games remain (Memphis on Feb. 6 and Cal State Bakersfield on March 2), but the Gonzaga Bulldogs are satisfied with how they’ve handled another difficult nonconference slate.
“I think there were a few games we thought we should have won or could have won,” senior guard Matt Bouldin said. “But if you had told me our record was going to be (11-3) and we’d be ranked where we are (19th) in the preseason, I would have been ecstatic.”
Gonzaga defeated 10 Division I opponents with a combined record of 84-63 (13 of those losses belong to Mississippi Valley State) through Wednesday games. The Bulldogs’ losses are to No. 5 Duke, No. 10 Michigan State and Wake Forest, which is receiving votes. Those teams are a combined 36-6.
“In light of our youth and inexperience and the schedule we played, our guys did a phenomenal job,” head coach Mark Few said. “That’s probably one of the toughest schedules we’ve ever had and to go into it with probably the youngest team we’ve ever had and come out 11-3, these guys deserve a lot of credit.”
Gonzaga was 10-5 in the nonconference last season (not counting NCAA tournament games).
Few said he hasn’t necessarily pared down the rotation. In Gonzaga’s last two games, freshman guard Grant Gibbs didn’t play and backup point guard G.J. Vilarino played 2 minutes late against Oklahoma.
“I think it’s just game to game,” Few said. “It’s the matchups, it’s the style (of play). That (Illinois) game was running up and down. Then they started climbing up into us pretty good and some guys handled that better than others. I wouldn’t make a sweeping generalization on (the rotation).”
Bol Kong, who can play the “3” or “4,” has seen increased minutes in Gonzaga’s last seven games and has scored between 4-14 points in all but the Illinois contest. Manny Arop’s string of double-figure minutes ended Saturday at six. Kelly Olynyk is averaging 14 minutes a game.
Ex-Zag Josh Heytvelt dropped by Wednesday’s practice. He’s playing for Oyak Renault in the Turkish Basketball League, but returned home during a two-week break.
“It was rough at first, being out of the country by myself,” said Heytvelt, whose older sister has joined him in Bursa, Turkey. “Now I’m used to it. I have the spots where I eat, but the hardest thing is the language barrier. I know a little bit of Turkish, but nothing that will get me anywhere.”
Heytvelt and Wink Adams (UNLV) are the two Americans on a roster that includes one Canadian. Heytvelt is averaging 17 points and 8.6 rebounds. He described the style of play as slower than what he’s used to with more emphasis on half-court offense.
Asked how his current team would do against his Gonzaga teams, Heytvelt said, “I honestly think Gonzaga would whup us.”
Heytvelt hopes to get another shot in the NBA, but he’s content playing overseas.
“Your career is only so long and I understand that now,” he said.
“I told my agent wherever the money is is where I want to play.”
Former Bulldog Andy Poling told the Oregonian newspaper that he is considering transferring to Portland, Portland State or Nevada. … Gonzaga, which visits Portland on Saturday to open WCC play, has won 12 straight and 26 of the last 27 in the series. GU has won 21 straight WCC regular-season games and 13 consecutive WCC openers. … Bouldin ranks 12th on GU’s all-time scoring list (1,365), fifth in steals (150) and fifth in assists (365).