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Gonzaga’s Dower battles back

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Gonzaga senior forward Sam Dower Jr. feared the worst when he took a nasty fall late in the first half of Saturday’s loss to Kansas State.

Dower couldn’t brace his fall after getting knocked off balance by KSU’s D.J. Johnson. The right side of Dower’s lower back took the brunt of the fall. He remained on the court, gasping for air for a few minutes while being attended to by trainer Jen Nyland.

“I got the wind knocked out of me,” Dower said. “I thought something had broken. Luckily, the test came back negative. It’s just a really deep bruise that’s messed with the muscles back there.”

Dower’s status for Saturday’s WCC opener against visiting Santa Clara will be determined closer to the 5 p.m. tipoff. He said he wouldn’t have played if the game had been Thursday. Dower had a slight limp as he walked the hallways inside the McCarthey Athletic Center, not nearly as bad as when he hobbled off the court at INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan., just before halftime.

Dower hasn’t practiced the last two days. He rode a stationary bike and worked on shooting on a side basket Thursday. He said he’s feeling better every day and “doing all the things I can do,” including massage and exercising on an underwater treadmill.

“Backs are tricky,” coach Mark Few said. “They can be a real stickler or it can be just a bruise and you get the swelling down and we can get through it. That will all be determined.”

Dower was taken for X-rays, which came back negative, at an area hospital during Saturday’s game. His family was in attendance and Dower joined them for the drive home to Minnesota for Christmas break. Dower said the flight back to Spokane on Christmas Day was uncomfortable, but it helped having an exit-row seat.

“I don’t know what the professional terms are, but something’s messed up back there and the muscles aren’t acting right, as they normally would,” Dower said. “I’ve fallen on my back before and when it happened I figured I could just get up and walk but my whole right side just shut down.”

Dower is second on the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.8). He’s made 61 percent of his field-goal attempts and 84 percent at the free-throw line.

Junior guard Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga’s leader in scoring (18.3), 3-pointers made (39), minutes (34.0) and free-throw percentage (91.5), is battling a sprained right big toe. He said having a few days off for the holiday was beneficial.

“It’s not 100 percent yet, but it’s slowly getting better,” said Pangos, who is second on the team at 4.4 assists per game. “This might be one I have to manage for a while. Hopefully, it’ll get better every day.”

Pangos has participated in GU’s last four practices, two prior to the K-State game, so he can get back into rhythm and boost his conditioning.

“I think it’s getting better,” Few said, “but the reality is it’s something he’s probably going to have to deal with all year.”