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Gonzaga homecoming for West Georgia coach Michael Cooney

Nigel Williams-Goss, right, shooting over Jeremy Jones during the Kraziness in the Kennel scrimmage last month, will make his debut in a GU uniform Saturday but Jones will not because of a high ankle sprain. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Nigel Williams-Goss, right, shooting over Jeremy Jones during the Kraziness in the Kennel scrimmage last month, will make his debut in a GU uniform Saturday but Jones will not because of a high ankle sprain. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

There’s occasionally a connection that leads to the scheduling of a Gonzaga exhibition game.

The Zags faced Thompson Rivers in 2014. Ken Olynyk, father of former Gonzaga standout Kelly Olynyk, was the athletic director at the Kamloops, B.C., school.

Wayne State visited Gonzaga in 2008. Former GU director of operations Jerry Krause earned his bachelor’s degree and received the Alumni Achievement Award from the NCAA Division II school in Nebraska.

How did D-II West Georgia end up on Gonzaga’s schedule?

Wolves coach Michael Cooney, a Spokane native and former Gonzaga team manager, ran into Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford at the Final Four. Hayford suggested that Cooney arrange a trip with games against EWU and Gonzaga.

It didn’t work out with EWU because of conflicts but the Wolves landed Saturday’s date with GU.

“I can’t thank Mark (Few) enough,” Cooney said. “There’s so many D-II teams in the Northwest that would gladly take this game, to work with us to get it done was above and beyond.”

Gonzaga has rarely been pushed in exhibition games over the last 10 years. The closest outcome in that span was a 26-point win over Thompson Rivers.

West Georgia’s resume is stronger than most of Gonzaga’s recent exhibition foes. The Wolves won the Gulf South Conference last year and advanced to the D-II national tournament. They return four starters, all seniors, from a 22-9 team.

West Georgia has three wins over D-I teams under 10th-year coach Cooney, including last year’s victory over Jacksonville State and against Savannah State in 2014.

It’s not the official opener – that comes next Friday against Utah Valley – but transfers Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams and Jordan Mathews should make their debuts in GU uniforms. Jeremy Jones is out with a high ankle sprain.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Williams-Goss said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard hours in the offseason. Just ready to get out there and play in front of our fans and get going.”

Four freshmen also could see court time but Zach Norvell hasn’t returned to full speed after summer knee surgery. Freshmen can play in exhibition games and still retain the option of redshirting.

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