Zags face first tough test
After two tune-ups, the Gonzaga men’s basketball team jumps into the meat of its schedule with tonight’s visit from No. 25 San Diego State.
The Aztecs, 1-0 after beating Dan Monson’s Long Beach State squad 81-65, return all five starters from a team that won 25 games and the Mountain West Conference Tournament last year. The 12th-ranked Zags haven’t been challenged while crushing Southern by 45 points and IUPUI by 30, but that figures to change tonight in the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“They look like a Sweet 16, an Elite 8 team to me,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It seems awfully early to be playing a game like this.”
This is a preliminary round of the CBE Classic, which continues Monday in Kansas City with GU facing No. 3 Kansas State and No. 1 Duke meeting Marquette.
The Aztecs’ Kawhi Leonard, much like the Zags’ Elias Harris, is a 6-foot-7 sophomore forward who was the freshman of the year in his conference. Leonard averaged 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds last season. He opened this season with 21 points and 12 boards against Long Beach State, giving him 18 double-doubles in 35 career games.
The front court also includes 6-9 senior Malcolm Thomas, who played his freshman season at Pepperdine in 2007-08, and 6-8 senior Billy White, a three-year All-MWC selection. Yahoo Sports’ Greg Anthony called the Aztecs’ front court the best in college basketball. Gonzaga’s interior foursome of Harris, Rob Sacre, Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower has combined to average 46.5 points in two easy wins.
“They’re a bigger team,” Olynyk said. “These last two teams have almost played four guards.”
San Diego State starting guards D.J. Gay and Chase Tapley both shot 38 percent from the 3-point line last year and 6-5 transfer James Rahon made 41 percent of his 3s for Santa Clara two years ago. Gay and Rahon combined to make 8 of 12 3s against the 49ers.
“They try to isolate you, step out and isolate you,” Few said. “All the NBA scouts that have been through are talking about (Leonard). His game is a little like Elias. He can attack you facing up or with the bounce. He’s an unbelievable offensive rebounder.”