Przemek Karnowski is still 7-foot-1 and 295 pounds, but he’s gone through a bit of a growth spurt of late.
His rebounding totals are growing. He’s shared or led Gonzaga in rebounding the last five games. The left-hander expanded his offensive game in Tuesday’s win over West Virginia with a couple of baskets with his right hand. He made 7 of 8 free throws.
Karnowski hasn’t been in foul trouble as much as earlier this season. He played 30 minutes before picking up his first foul against the Mountaineers.
The Polish native missed a couple of shots from point-blank range, but he didn’t let it impact the ensuing play.
“The first couple games I didn’t feel as confident,” Karnowski said.
“I started out good from the free-throw line (this season) and then I kind of fell down, but now I’m more confident.
“I just have to play through mistakes. We don’t have Kelly (Olynyk) or Elias (Harris) anymore. Even if I play bad, I have to help my teammates.”
With forward Sam Dower Jr. in foul trouble and the offense sputtering in the first half, Karnowski delivered when the Zags needed it.
“He was tough, he didn’t pout, he was just a force,” senior guard David Stockton said. “He didn’t have any of those ‘Shem’ moments we’ve come to know and love. He was a stud the whole night. With Sam out, he picked up the scoring and rebounding load. He gave us an outlet when things were difficult.”
Karnowski has been shooting roughly 100 free throws per day. He tweaked his shooting form last week and he’s made 12 of his last 17 free throws. He’s working on finishing around the hoop with his right hand.
“We tried to take the left-hand hook away, which we did,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “He made some right-hand hooks. We just let him get too deep. We can’t let somebody that big get that deep.”
Karnowski is averaging 9.9 points and 8.1 rebounds. He’s blocked a team-high 14 shots.
“He made some nice plays defensively where he was keeping his hands back and not coming down,” coach Mark Few said. “Shem and Sam need vast improvement (playing through mistakes), but there have been baby steps there. Rebounding, he’s made some major steps.”
As a result, Karnowski’s confidence is growing.
“For sure, I can see I can help the team as much as I want,” he said.
Gonzaga’s backcourt of Kevin Pangos (toe) and Gary Bell Jr. (hip pointer) logged a combined 75 minutes against WVU.
“They’re beat up,” Few said, “but they’re competitive guys.”
Pangos, already dealing with a sprained right big toe, twisted his left ankle late in the first half. He finished with 18 points, including three 3-pointers in the closing minutes. Bell, who missed nearly the entire second half against New Mexico State, made 4 of 6 shots, including 2 of 3 3-pointers, and 5 of 6 free throws. He had a career-high nine rebounds and zero turnovers in 36 minutes.
Bell seemed full speed at practice Tuesday. Pangos was a spectator and will be as much as possible to give his toe healing time. GU faces South Alabama in Seattle on Saturday and Kansas State in Wichita the following Saturday. WCC play begins vs. Santa Clara on Dec. 28.
“I really didn’t think about it during the game,” Pangos said. “It was sore throughout, but I had more things to worry about.”
Pangos said his ankle isn’t serious, but he’s wearing a “contraption” to protect his toe in games.
“There’s a gel pad, a plastic plate,” he said. “I actually had to up my shoe a half size because it was so big.”
Former Bulldog Elias Harris, cut recently by the Los Angeles Lakers in a cost-saving move, will leave this morning to play professionally in his native Germany. Harris has been in Spokane for several days and visited practice Tuesday. He said he improved playing against high-level competition the last 3-4 months.