PULLMAN – Mark Few and his Gonzaga assistants have presumably spent their week skimming through game film on the North Dakota basketball team, installing the Fighting Hawks’ schemes and singling out the players most likely to make a dent in tonight’s 5 o’clock game at the Kennel.
A phone call to Drick Bernstine could’ve also done the trick.
Bernstine, a fifth-year graduate transfer at Washington State, joined the Cougars after spending two seasons with the Fighting Hawks and was a central figure in UND’s school record 22-win season that ended in the first round of the 2016-17 NCAA Tournament.
Bernstine is still friendly with his ex-teammates – and he’d certainly be qualified to give Gonzaga an in-depth scouting report on the 2017-18 Fighting Hawks.
“They have a lot of scorers, they have a lot of scorers,” Bernstine said after Thursday’s WSU practice in Pullman. “They’re undersized but they’re going to play hard, I do know that. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to come out and fight and they’re not going to quit. That’s basically what I’d tell them, honestly.”
The Fighting Hawks are clearly still adjusting to life without Bernstine, who had a 20-point, 15-rebound double-double in an opening-round NCAA tourney loss to Arizona last season, and All-Big Sky First Team selection Quinton Hooker, who many felt should’ve been the conference’s 2017 Player of the Year.
UND brings a 4-6 record into tonight’s game against GU. The Fighting Hawks have stumbled in each of their last three contests and have lost their last five games against D-I opposition. That includes a 111-68 loss to the same Creighton team the Zags cruised past two weeks ago.
“I think they’re going through growing pains and having a lot of guards and having a lot of departures whether it be through a grad transfer like me or through seniors leaving,” Bernstine said. “They also lost another power forward this year. I’m looking forward to the game. I hope it’s closer than I’m sure it’s expected to be.”
The Cougars have IUPUI at home this afternoon, otherwise Bernstine would probably make a short drive up snowy Highway 195 for the clash in Spokane. Of course he’ll be pulling for a UND upset, but Bernstine might also let out a cheer whenever GU guard Josh Perkins gets to the basket.
Bernstine’s hometown of Aurora, Colorado, is 7 miles away from the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver that Perkins calls home. The two were AAU rivals throughout their childhood and linked up to play for the same Colorado Miners club team for two years before attending separate colleges.
Bernstine stayed nearby at first, playing one season at Denver University, before taking a year off and joining the Fighting Hawks for the 2015-16 season. Perkins has been a staple for GU’s backcourt since the start of his redshirt freshman season.
On Thursday, Bernstine mentioned he’d visited his “little brother Josh” at GU last weekend.
“Our relationship got closer and closer,” Perkins said. “He actually lives in the neighborhood where I went to high school (Regis). I would be at his house every day. He’s a guy I call a brother to this day.”
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