It went largely unnoticed but Gonzaga walk-on freshman guard Dustin Triano suited up for the first time for Monday’s game against San Francisco.
Triano is scheduled to redshirt but he’s on call with Gonzaga’s depleted roster. It’s symbolic of the Bulldogs’ all-hands-on deck approach to dealing with injuries to their top three scorers: Kevin Pangos (turf toe), Sam Dower Jr. (lower back; missed last two games) and Gary Bell Jr. (broken hand; out 4-to-6 weeks).
Gonzaga coach Mark Few anticipated a lighter walk- through and shooting practice Tuesday and a “semi-live” practice Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s showdown with Saint Mary’s, which has emerged as Gonzaga’s primary WCC rival in the last decade. Dower will be a game-day decision.
“We’re getting low on bodies,” Few said. “This is a really crazy stretch with four games in seven days, but it is what it is so we have to deal with it.”
Same goes for the injury list.
“I certainly can’t remember anything like this; I mean it’s you’re top three guys hurt,” Few said. “And one guy (Pangos) is playing with heart and guts right now. It’s just unbelievable but you do this long enough you end up with something like that. I’ve had other colleagues and buddies that have had to deal with it.”
Saint Mary’s will be short-handed on the bench. Head coach Randy Bennett is serving a five-game suspension as part of NCAA sanctions. Fourth-year assistant Eran Ganot is the acting head coach.
The Bulldogs (12-2, 2-0) successfully dealt with Santa Clara and San Francisco, but the competition level rises with Saint Mary’s (10-3, 1-0), followed by WCC newcomer Pacific (9-3, 0-1) on Saturday.
GU has received solid contributions from newly minted starters Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis as well as the bench, led by Angel Nunez. Sophomore center Przemek Karnowski is coming off one of his best all-around games as a Bulldog.
“I worry every game of my coaching career,” Few said. “Some guys can hit in the 9-spot but not in the 3-spot. We’re going to be in this for the long haul, undermanned for a while, but for two nights, so far so good. Now we’ll get tested in a very different way.”
The Zags and Gaels have played for the last five WCC tournament titles with GU winning three. Gonzaga is 65-2 in conference games since the 2004 opening of the McCarthey Athletic Center, one of those losses coming to Saint Mary’s in 2011. The Gaels snapped Gonzaga’s streak of 11 straight WCC titles in 2012.
Some expected Saint Mary’s to take a step back after losing Matthew Dellavedova, the school’s all-time leader in scoring, assists and 3-pointers. Stephen Holt has transitioned from shooting guard to point guard to replace Dellavedova, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Gaels have an interior presence with center Brad Waldow and surround him with capable shooters. Saint Mary’s leads the WCC in rebounding margin at plus 6.1.
“Dellavedova kind of dominated the ball last year so you’re going to see a lot of different options,” GU guard David Stockton said.
“They’re tough and they’re our rivals so we have to go after them.”