March 17, 2010 in Sports

Physical tournament follows Zags’ grueling regular season

By The Spokesman-Review
 
J. Bart Rayniak photo

Despite dealing with bumps, bruises and a nasty fall, Gonzaga’s Steven Gray did not miss a start this season.
(Full-size photo)

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It’s not something he set out to do, but Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin has had to learn how to deal with and play with the aches that come with being a college basketball player who rarely leaves the court.

The senior guard has endured a laundry list of bumps, bruises, pulls, strains, tweaks and hyperextensions. This season he’s had issues with his knee, ankle, hand, toes and back in addition to a concussion. He dealt with multiple ankle and calf injuries during his sophomore season.

Through it all, Bouldin has played in 131 games and missed just two – the Davidson game in December while he was dealing with a concussion and Northern Colorado during his sophomore year with quad/ankle injuries. He’s averaged 31.6 minutes per game in his career, a figure that has increased to 35.4 this season.

“It’s maybe been a little different this year,” Bouldin said. “But my sophomore year was miserable with the injuries. This year I’ve had a lot more opportunities to get healthy, whether it’s going lighter at practice or going to get extra treatment. I’ve handled my injuries better. It hasn’t been as bad a grind as it could have been.”

He’s hardly alone. Steven Gray and Elias Harris took nasty falls in different games. Gray landed on his right elbow; Harris on his lower back. Both were back on the court within minutes. Neither has missed a start. Both routinely play 30 minutes per game.

Part of college basketball is learning how to play effectively when you’re not 100 percent healthy. At this point of the season, nearly every player in a team’s rotation has some body part barking from the wear and tear of a physical sport.

“You have to deal with the pain that comes with it,” said center Robert Sacre, who dealt with a deep bruise in his right arm midway through the conference season. “That’s how it is.”

Sacre has played 795 minutes this season after logging 313 in 33 career games the last two years. He plays in the paint, where jostling for position occurs on every play at both ends of the floor. That vantage point has allowed him to see the pounding that Gray and Bouldin have endured throughout the season.

“They’re tough guys,” he said. “They know it’s going to be physical.”

Gray is averaging 31.5 minutes, nearly five more per game than his sophomore season.

“It’s been an adjustment,” he said. “There has been a maturing that’s taken place in the last year and that’s helped with it. Finding a way to not see that you’re tired or thinking you’re tired … I’ve found your body will do a lot.

“It really hasn’t set in how long a season it’s been, but you can always go. (Former GU baseball) coach (Steve) Hertz always says after games, ‘You could go out and play another if you absolutely had to,’ which is true.”

Bouldin hurt his right (shooting) hand against San Diego in mid-January.

“Until I really get to rest it, I don’t think it’ll get any better,” Bouldin said. “But everybody has messed up hands in college basketball.”

Pro basketball, too. At present, five Los Angeles Lakers are dealing with finger/hand ailments.

GU has leaned heavily on Bouldin and he responded by winning the WCC player of the year award. He played 37.1 minutes per WCC game.

“It feels natural to me,” he said. “I’d be mad if I wasn’t getting those kinds of minutes. I mean, if I’m not on the floor, I want to be back out there.”

Two Zags honored

Bouldin and Harris have been selected to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District 9 first team. They were joined by Omar Samhan of Saint Mary’s, San Francisco’s Dior Lowhorn and UC Santa Barbara’s Orlando Johnson.

Bouldin is a repeat selection. He averaged 15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season. Harris averaged 14.7 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds.

Gonzaga’s Mark Few was named the District 9 coach of the year.


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