Guard U is going to see a steady diet of quality guards the rest of this month and when the West Coast Conference season rolls around in January.
After facing the trio of Brandon Paul, Tracy Abrams and D.J. Richardson – all recruited to Illinois by former coach Bruce Weber – the Bulldogs turn their attention to Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling, Kansas State’s top three scorers and leaders in minutes played under first-year coach Weber. The Zags and Wildcats meet Saturday in the 10th annual Battle in Seattle.
Down the road are Baylor’s tandem of Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart (13.4 ppg), Markel Brown (14.0) and 6-foot-7 Le’Bryan Nash (16.3), who is listed as a guard/forward.
It’s a non-stop set of challenges for Gonzaga, which dedicates a Guard U page in its online media guide to its tradition of standout guards (Stockton, Santangelo, Dickau, Stepp, Raivio, Pargo, Bouldin, etc.).
“It’s going to be a tough month,” sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “We just have to learn from how we played against Illinois and bounce back.”
Led by Paul’s 35 points, the backcourt trio produced 60 points in Illinois’ 85-74 win over Gonzaga on Saturday, which cost the Bulldogs four spots in both polls. Upon further review, coach Mark Few was not pleased with GU’s defense.
“You walked off the floor and didn’t think we were capable of guarding somebody like Paul, but then you watch the film and we screwed up so many of the ball-screen assignments,” Few said. “On one side that’s encouraging (because the mistakes are correctable), but on the other it’s disappointing. We probably had more game slippage than we’ve had in the other games thus far.
“Probably 80 percent of their (3-pointers) were caused by dribble penetration, and a lot of the dribble penetration was preventable from the proper guy doing his job on the ball screen, either hedging out or trapping. In the flow of the game a lot of times we weren’t doing any of it. We didn’t need to switch on Paul as many times as we did when he was out in non-scoring areas.”
The WCC features standout guards, including Saint Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova, the conference’s reigning player of the year; Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore; and Loyola Marymount’s Anthony Ireland.
K-State’s starting guard trio combines to average 32.3 points and 9.5 assists per game.
“You have to keep them in front and make everything difficult for them,” Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos said. “And it’s a team defense, not just one guy against great players and great athletes like (Paul) that are a hard cover 1-on-1. The whole team has to be involved.”
Junior forward Sam Dower woke up Wednesday morning feeling lousy and not much changed the rest of the week. He was limited to nine minutes against Washington State and three against Illinois.
“They say it’s a respiratory infection,” said Dower, who practiced Monday. “If anything it got worse on Saturday, but I’m feeling a little better. Terrible headaches and really fatigued; it was probably evident on the court. I just wasn’t the same.”
Free throw fixes
Przemek Karnowski took the floor prior to practice and went straight to the free-throw line. The 7-foot-1 freshman center is putting in extra time to try to boost his free-throw accuracy. He’s at 34.4 percent, but he’s connected on 3 of his last 5 dating back to the Pacific game.
“When I was in Europe, I shot like 60 percent,” he said. “I know it’s not excellent, but it’s much better than I’m shooting right now. I’m spending so much time to get my free throws better.”
Coaches have made some adjustments to his routine and technique. Despite averaging just 14.1 minutes, Karnowski is third on the team with 32 free-throw attempts.
Few said Karnowski’s stroke looks smoother and he expects to see gradual improvement.