Air Force provides different challenge for Zags

Air Force sharpshooter Mike Fitzgerald, center, makes more than 50 percent of his shots from beyond the 3-point line. (Associated Press)

You know how it is during the holidays. Never enough time to buy presents, catch up with relatives, see every bowl game and prepare for a Princeton-style offense.

Gonzaga plays its last pre-Christmas men’s basketball game Thursday night when Air Force visits the McCarthey Athletic Center. The Falcons are 6-2, with a three-point overtime loss to Colorado and a two-point loss to Drake in their only road game.

“It’s a very difficult game on short prep,” GU coach Mark Few said. “They run the Princeton-style offense to a ‘T’ and same with the old Princeton-style defense – and we basically have a day to prepare for it. Ideally, you want a week because it’s so different than what you see in college basketball. We have to get their minds ready to learn and listen.”

The Princeton offense typically relies on lots of motion, screening and cutting (particularly back cuts), and puts a premium on high-IQ players who can dribble, pass and read defenses. Air Force makes nearly 48 percent of its shots and averages 67.8 points per game.

Michael Lyons, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, averages 18.4 points. He scored 31 points against Colorado. Before going 0 of 5 in Air Force’s last game, junior forward Mike Fitzgerald was ranked third nationally in 3-point accuracy at 56.3 percent. He averages 10.3 points per game.

“Another team that is solid, tough and runs a lot of stuff,” Bulldogs guard David Stockton said.

The Falcons, picked fifth in the Mountain West preseason poll, limit opponents to 37 percent shooting and just 57 points. Wright State, which beat Idaho 80-78 in overtime Tuesday, made just 19.6 percent of its shots and scored 34 points against Air Force, which ranks in the top 35 in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense and 3-point percentage defense.

Both teams are riding three-game winning streaks. Gonzaga (8-2) downed Butler 71-55 on Tuesday. The Falcons, who defeated Maryland-Eastern Shore 64-60 on Saturday, have been in Spokane since Monday night.


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