LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Gonzaga’s depth just got deeper.
The Bulldogs welcome back 7-foot junior forward Kelly Olynyk to face a Clemson squad Thursday night whose top two scorers are interior players. Olynyk, sidelined for the first three games due to an unspecified violation of the Student Code of Conduct, adds to a balanced roster featuring nine players averaging between 15 and 26 minutes.
“He’s going to help us a bunch,” GU coach Mark Few said. “He’s been a very good player for us in the preseason, one of our best so far in practice and all the workouts. He’s hungry to get back out there.”
Olynyk, who redshirted last year, is capable of playing the 4 or 5. He joins a talented front court with Elias Harris, Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski.
“He’s a good shooter, good passer and he’s also more physical and can bang against the bigger teams,” Dower said of Olynyk. “He can shoot the 3. He’s really confident and hopefully that rolls into games as well.”
Gonzaga (3-0) will play three games in four days at the Old Spice Classic, beginning with Clemson at 6 PST at HP Field House. Oklahoma (2-0) faces Texas-El Paso (1-1) in the other half of the bracket. In other openers, West Virginia meets Marist and Davidson takes on Vanderbilt.
Clemson (2-0) is led by 6-8, 250-pound senior center Devin Booker (13 points, 4 rebounds), 6-9 senior forward Milton Jennings (10.5 points, 6 rebounds) and 6-6 wing K.J. McDaniels (9.5 points, 4 rebounds). The Tigers thumped Presbyterian 77-44 and Furman 72-55 with 10 players seeing substantial minutes.
“Their inside guys are pretty accomplished,” Few said.
The Tigers advanced to the 2011 NCAA tournament in coach Brad Brownell’s first season, finishing 16-15. Clemson defeated Alabama-Birmingham for the school’s first NCAA win in 14 years.
Brownell guided Wright State and North Carolina-Wilmington to NCAA tournament berths in previous coaching stops. Now in his 11th season as a Division I coach, Brownell’s teams have finished in the top 50 in scoring defense every season. Clemson ranked first in the ACC and 24th nationally at 61.4 points per game last year, the school’s best since 1950.
Gonzaga is averaging 94.3 points.
“They kind of play a slower tempo. We have to be prepared for a grinder,” Few said. “Brad kind of hangs his hat on that end of the floor. His teams are hard-nosed, tough to score on. A big key will be being able to handle their pressure defense, athleticism and physicality, much like what we dealt with against West Virginia.”
In their only previous meeting, Gonzaga, coached by Dan Monson, knocked off No. 5 Clemson 84-71 in the championship game of the 1997 Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska.