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Gonzaga’s ‘D’ encounters elite scorer in Jackrabbits’ Mike Daum

UPDATED: Wed., March 15, 2017, 9:32 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY – Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson didn’t have to go deep into his memory bank when asked about South Dakota State scoring machine Mike Daum.

“Wiltjer.”

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga’s scoring machine in 2015 and 2016?

“Wiltjer, that’s a better driver,” continued Michaelson, who compiled the scouting report. “As elite a scoring big as we’ve ever faced. Scary.”

The second-ranked Zags (32-1) have faced quality bigs in BYU’s Eric Mika and Jock Landale of Saint Mary’s with mixed success. No. 16-seeded South Dakota State (18-16) presents a unique challenge in Thursday’s NCAA tournament opener with the innovative scoring of the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Daum.

Daum shattered the school’s single-season scoring record. He had 25 20-point games, 13 30-point games and poured in 51 against Fort Wayne, equaling the NCAA single-game high this season.

The sophomore took it easy on Fort Wayne in the first meeting, dropping only 42 points.

“He has the best touch around the basket I’ve ever played with or seen,” Jackrabbits senior forward A.J. Hess said. “Some of the shots he gets to go down around the rim are ridiculous.

“And obviously he can stretch the floor. Ultraskilled. He may not be the biggest, strongest or fastest, but he’s just so skilled and he knows how to pick his spot. He can really put the ball in the hole.”

The matchup of Daum and 7-foot-1, 300-pound Gonzaga counterpart Przemek Karnowski was a popular topic during both teams’ media sessions. Their body types and scoring averages aren’t close – Karnowski averages 12.6 points in GU’s balanced attack – but they share a number of similarities.

Both are outgoing, larger-than-life figures popular with classmates and community members.

“Everytime you have a conversation with him, he makes it seem like it’s the most exciting thing of all time,” Hess said. “Everybody knows Mike Daum in the community. He’s got a little bit of a persona this year and deservedly so. He’s done some pretty incredible things.”

Daum has never faced a center comparable in size to Karnowski. He did run into Maryland’s Diamond Stone (6-11, 255) in last year’s NCAA Tournament opener in Spokane.

“I played against a few guys that height in AAU,” Daum said. “Obviously, it’s been my teammates and coaches … they’re the ones that do all the hard work so I can just go out there and shoot the ball.”

The Daum-Karnowski matchup will almost certainly happen. It’s just that Gonzaga has several defending options with athletic 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams, mobile 7-foot center Zach Collins and rangy 6-10 forward Killian Tillie.

“We practiced a couple ways to guard him,” Karnowski said. “I cannot share that, but we’ll be ready.”

Daum has seen virtually every type of defense and still found ways to score. He usually takes bigger defenders outside and smaller ones inside, but that shouldn’t be as easy against GU’s frontcourt.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few mentioned the Wiltjer comparison, adding, “he actually has a little bit of getting going downhill a bit like Adam Morrison could, and he has a high shooting pocket like Mo had.”

Daum isn’t the only issue. Reed Tellinghuisen, with 73 3-pointers, and Hess, 66 3-pointers, play the ‘4.’

“You’re talking about a stretch ‘4’ and stretch ‘5,’ which you don’t face in college basketball,” Michaelson said.

At the other end of the court, the Jackrabbits have to match up with the Zags. South Dakota State played zone defense for long stretches early, but they’ve employed man-to-man during their late-season run to the Summit League tournament title.

The Zags are expecting to see both defenses.

“We’re going to have to use our size advantage on the glass and offensively,” Michaelson said, “because they have the advantage of being able to stretch our bigs away from the basket on the other end.

“It’s made it a really difficult prep in that they’ve probably done as many different things as any team we’ve faced all year.”

Michaelson had dark circles under his eyes to prove it.

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