WICHITA – Gonzaga senior guard David Stockton is a concise, cut-to-the-chase interview subject.
When asked about the challenge Kansas State presents in the Wichita Wildcat Classic today at INTRUST Arena, Stockton advised his teammates to bring their hard hats.
“They’re a very tough team, they’re always going to rebound tough and play hard,” Stockton said. “And we’ll be in Kansas with their fans so we have to be ready to go.”
How have the 21st-ranked Bulldogs fared in the physicality department?
“I think we have (improved), but it’s still a learning process,” Stockton said. “Sometimes I feel like we’re tougher some days than we are other days. We have to sharpen up that consistency and that will really help us down the line.”
The Wildcats (7-3) rely on hard-nosed defense and a serviceable offense. They’re plus 64 in rebounding in a five-game winning streak. They average 14.2 offensive boards per game, despite not starting a player taller than 6-foot-7.
Kansas State, 8-12 in previous games in Wichita, has held seven of its last nine opponents to season-low point totals. Five of those foes were held to 60 points or less. The Wildcats rank ninth nationally in scoring defense (59.4) and fourth in 3-point percentage defense (24.9).
Gonzaga thumped the Wildcats 68-52 last year in the Battle in Seattle. Kansas State went on to earn a share the Big 12 regular-season title, the program’s first since 1977.
“Last year they really tried to bang it inside with their bigs,” Kansas State senior guard Will Spradling said. “This year they are a lot more guard oriented. Obviously they have the same guards but they had two pros on the inside so they really looked to get them the ball. The guards are putting up a lot more shots.”
On paper, this one has the feel of the irresistible force (Gonzaga’s offense) vs. the immovable object (Kansas State’s defense). The Zags were leading the nation in field-goal percentage and 3-pointers made, but dropped to fifth and fourth, respectively, after a season-worst field-goal percentage (40.6) in a victory over South Alabama.
“Kansas State is pretty straight forward on defense,” GU coach Mark Few said. “They’re going to play man and get after you.”
Gonzaga will be the Wildcats’ first ranked opponent. Kansas State was tied for fifth with Oklahoma in the Big 12 preseason poll.
“It is another chance for us to go undefeated in December, and a tournament resume win,” Wildcats senior guard Shane Southwell said. “They are in the top 20 (tied for 15th in AP) so it would be a very big win for us.”