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GU, Duke set for NYC showdown

Back with a preview of Saturday's Gonzaga-Duke game. Read on for the unedited version below and some notes that didn't make it into the article.

Here's the advance (notes at the bottom)...

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Elias Harris grew up in Germany, but certain U.S. collegiate sports teams, arenas and cities are recognized world wide.

“Duke, North Carolina,” said Harris, Gonzaga’s talented freshman forward. “UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky… the big-name teams are famous over there, too.”

Same goes for Madison Square Garden and New York City. Put the three together and you have Gonzaga’s assignment today when the 15th-ranked Bulldogs (8-2) tangle with No. 7 Duke (8-1) in the Aeropostale Classic.

“It’s a huge one,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “They’re one of the greatest programs over the last 20-30 years in college basketball. We’re playing at Madison Square Garden, that’s kind of the mecca of college basketball. It’s a great opportunity for us. Not many programs have the chance to play in this game with Duke, so we welcome that. And we know we have to play probably close to great to be able to get it done.”

Gonzaga is accustomed to these types of showdowns, having played a rugged non-conference schedule this decade. Since 2003, the Bulldogs are 1-3 at MSG, including a 61-54 loss to Duke in 2006. The name on the opponent’s jersey and the famed arena isn’t GU’s biggest worries. It’s the players wearing the uniforms.

“They’re very smart, that just sticks out. How they take care of the ball, their intelligence, their skill level,” said Bulldogs assistant Tommy Lloyd, who put together the scouting report on the Blue Devils. “They’re maybe not the most physical or athletic team, but if there’s a loose ball, they’re on the floor. If there’s a charge to be taken, they’re rotating over and taking the hit. Their effort is off the charts. That’s the No. 1 challenge for us, matching that and we’re capable of it.”

Or, as Harris put it, “We have to stay focused on offense and defense. We have to watch out because Duke is a very good team.”

The Blue Devils defeated Arizona State and Connecticut to win the NIT Season Tip-Off last month at MSG. Wisconsin, behind guard Trevon Hughes’ 26 points, handed Duke its only loss, 73-69, in Madison on Dec. 2. Gonzaga limited Hughes to 10 points in a 74-63 win in the Maui Invitational semifinals.

Lloyd essentially considers versatile 6-foot-8 Kyle Singler a guard, though he’s listed as a forward, because of his play-making ability. Singler and guards Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Andre Dawkins account for 61.3 points of the team’s 85.4 per game.

“Nolan is really athletic, fast, can shoot it and take it to the rack,” said GU senior guard Matt Bouldin, who is expected to play after missing Saturday’s game against Davidson. “Scheyer had a great night (with 36 points and nine assists against Gardner-Webb on Tuesday) and Singler is one of the best players in the country. His size gives them a lot of options against other guards and he has the ability to shoot. We’ll have our hands full.”

And now some notes...

--I asked Robert Sacre what was a bigger deal, playing Duke or playing in the Garden, and his response cracked both of us up.

“It’s more of a big deal that (ex-Zag Abdullahi) Kuso will be at the game. I know it’s Duke in the Garden, but keep it realistic. ‘Kuse’ is going to be there.”

I asked Harris the same question. His reply: “I think both things at the same time make the package.”

--Bouldin needs 21 points to move past John Stockton into 17th place on GU’s all-time scoring list. Bouldin, who has 1,320 career points, passed Jeremy Pargo recently.

--Duke’s Seth Curry, younger brother of ex-Davidson star Stephen Curry, is sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules. He played at Liberty last year. The older Curry torched GU for 40 points in a 2008 NCAA Tournament win.



Lloyd on Duke’s big men: “Those guys are aggressive, role guys, physical and they have five of them and they shuffle them in and out.”

Harris on Duke’s bigs: “They’re very strong, of course, tall. It’s going to be a great matchup for us. We’re a pretty tall team. We have to see who can stick to their game plan and win the game.”

Sacre on if it’s been mentioned by the coaching staff that he had one rebound in the Davidson game, and that came with less than a minute remaining: “No, they won’t left me forget that. It happens, it’s one of those things. I just have to apply more effort, that’s all it is. I just have to work for the rebounds.”

Few on playing Duke in the Garden: “This is a home game basically for them. It’s one they do every year, they have a very big following up there, but last time we played them in the Garden it was great to see all the Zag fans. It makes for a great basketball experience and event and hopefully it’ll be a good game.”

Few on the challenge of playing Duke: “They have great players. These guys are the best of the best in recruiting. This particular group with Singler and Scheyer is incredibly experienced. They’ve got more games under the belt than anybody and they just have a high level of skill and basketball intelligence.”


Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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