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Gonzaga hopes to get boost from students’ return

Wed., Jan. 18, 2012, 6:19 p.m.

Seating dedicated to the Kennel Club dwindled over the last month until a smattering of students wedged into a small pie-shaped section, resulting in lower volume levels inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The environment figures to change tonight with the students back in school and Gonzaga back home to entertain San Francisco.

“My kids have been very envious of the (length of GU students’) winter break,” Bulldogs men’s basketball coach Mark Few said with a smile. “They keep track of things like that.”

San Francisco coach Rex Walters, a former University of Kansas guard whose home floor was legendary ‘Phog’ Allen Fieldhouse, is well versed on intimidating home courts

“As a player, I liked going to Kansas State, Missouri, and trying to shut them up, that’s the challenge,” Walters said. “We want people at their best. Regardless of what happens, it makes us better.”

Gonzaga (14-3, 4-1) won all six home games over winter break, but the players are ready for a change in decibels.

“It wasn’t as loud, not as wild,” said junior forward Elias Harris, who is averaging 13.4 points after leading GU in scoring on last week’s 1-1 road trip. “It’s about time everybody’s back.”

San Francisco (12-8, 2-4 WCC) has nearly everybody back from a 19-win team that placed third in the conference last season.

Four Dons average in double figures, led by senior forward Angelo Caloriaro at 14.2 points per game. Junior center Perris Blackwell contributes 11.5 points and nearly six rebounds. Guards Rashad Green (11.4 points), Michael Williams (10.9) and Cody Doolin (7.4 points, 3.3 assists) round out the starting five.

All are familiar names to the Bulldogs. Doolin’s three-point play broke a tie late in overtime as the Dons beat visiting GU last season.

“Blackwell is a handful, he can really post like Rob (Sacre),” Few said. “They have guys that get a lot of dribbles if they need it, have the ability to react and read and it’s all about spacing the floor because they can really shoot the 3 and that opens up driving lanes. More and more teams are doing that.”

Walters was 23-37 at USF in his first two seasons. The Dons started 4-9 last season, but have since gone 27-14, earning Walters a contract extension through 2016. USF contended for the title last season before finishing 10-4, the school’s best WCC record in 29 years.

“Since (losing to) BYU, we’ve played pretty good basketball,” Walters said. “We’re improving and understanding our identity, finally, in January. I like where we’re going, but we’ve got a tough stretch with three in a row on the road.”

Walters said Caloriaro “has taken his game to a different level, he’s scoring in a lot of different ways.” Last year’s team had a stronger bench, but Walters has been pleased with sophomore forward Cole Dickerson, who averages 6.3 points.

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