The season opener arrives tonight and Gonzaga basketball players and coaches think it’s about time.
“I can’t wait. It’s been a grind, but it’s crazy that it’s already here,” sophomore guard Kevin Pangos said of No. 21 Gonzaga’s opener against Southern Utah at the McCarthey Athletic Center. “We’ve worked hard over the summer. It’ll be nice to put it on display.”
The Thunderbirds (14-17 overall) finished sixth in the Summit League last season. They’re now members of the Big Sky Conference. New head coach Nick Robinson played and assisted at Stanford. He spent the last three years as an assistant at LSU.
Forward Jackson Stevenett (14.1 points, 5.7 rebounds), second-team All-Summit League, and guard Damon Heuir (10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds. 3.1 assists) are returning starters.
“As coaches, we’re always worried about everything: ‘Are we prepared for this, what if they do that?’ ” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “But as much as they’ve been going against each other, dating back to summer, it’s time to start facing other people and see how we react and adjust when people start taking things away.”
It’s the second straight season a ranked GU team will open against a visiting Big Sky opponent under a first-year head coach. Eastern Washington led Gonzaga with 7 minutes left before the Bulldogs claimed a 77-69 win last year.
“They (the Eagles) played outstanding,” said senior forward Elias Harris, who is on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 for the third straight season. “That can happen any night. We need to be mentally prepared for everything.”