Utah State brings something that Gonzaga’s two previous opponents have yet to accomplish this young college basketball season.
Utah State, which begins a five-game, 13-day road trip Saturday against the 17th-ranked Zags (2-0), also brings an affinity for the 3-point shot and a stingy defense (61.7 points allowed).
“We start amping up the competition,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team won its first two games by a combined 65 points. “It’ll be tougher to make passes, tougher to make shots, and we’ll face more legitimate size.”
The Aggies (2-1) lost a lot of their size when projected starting center Norbert Janicek (6-foot-11, 250) went down with a season-ending knee injury. Alex Dargenton (6-8, 205) moved over from the ‘4’ to replace Janicek.
“We’re undersized,” said third-year coach Tim Duryea, whose team is picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West. “We try to help Alex out however we have to.”
Utah State’s strength resides in the backcourt. Point guard Koby McEwen was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year last season. His stats, counting an exhibition game, put him in with Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson and Markelle Fultz as the only freshmen to average 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Sophomore Sam Merrill, who was seventh nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.27), and McEwen give the Aggies one of the Mountain West’s best returning guard tandems. J.C. transfer DeAngelo Isby, a 6-6 wing, paces the squad in scoring (15.3).
McEwen left Wednesday’s 83-47 rout over Mississippi Valley State with an ankle injury. Duryea is optimistic McEwen will play but “we’ve got to look at that hour by hour, minute by minute.”
Duryea’s first two teams ranked 1-2 for most single-season 3-point attempts in program history. The Aggies fired a school-record 35 3s against Mississippi Valley State. USU’s 68 3-point tries account for 42.5 percent of their overall field goal attempts.
“We’re trying to recover (after losing Janicek) and trying to play to our identity, which is the 3-point shot,” Duryea said. “We kind of set a goal as a team getting 25 to 30 3s a night.
“If we’re going to have a good year, we’re going to have to be a good shooting team, and we’ll have to be a good shooting team from four spots.”
Duryea said his team needs to play with poise and find quality shots.
“Even though a lot of them are going to be 3-pointers, we need to shoot shots we’re familiar shooting so we can get our defense set,” he said. “And we have to rebound. That’s going to be a key for us every night, no matter who we play.”