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Zags, Eags clash Monday

Back from a furlough week and I hope everyone had a great Christmas. Below is an unedited advance of Monday's Gonzaga-EWU game, as well as some notes that didn't make the preview.

Read on.

First, the preview...

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Two teams looking to get back in sync offensively collide tonight at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Eastern Washington is coming off a three-game stretch where “we kept missing shots,” head coach Kirk Earlywine said. Gonzaga followed up a 103-91 win over Davidson with a frightful 41-point showing in a blowout loss to Duke in New York City.

 Tip-off for the first GU-EWU clash since 2006 is at 6. Gonzaga has won the last 21 meetings.

The Eagles (4-9) have dropped four straight, but the last three fall in a different category than a 73-70 road loss to Nevada on Dec. 17. In that one, EWU shot 49 percent from the floor but lost when Nevada’s Brandon Fields hit a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left.

The Eagles were swamped by BYU 91-34 before going 0-2 at the Hoop TV Las Vegas Classic last week. EWU made 28 percent of its shots in becoming Chicago State’s first win of the season against a Division I opponent. The next day, the Eagles shot 38 percent in falling to previously winless Jackson State.

“We actually got better shots in Vegas, we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Earlywine said. “I was happy with our effort level and intensity level. We guarded and rebounded. We simply couldn’t make a basket.

“It’s a fine line where you try to make sure your guys are shooting it confidently and sometimes the more you address it the bigger the issue becomes. But it’s the elephant in the room and it’s hard to get past that.”

The 25th-ranked Zags (8-3), who entered the Duke game averaging 79.5 points on 49.3 percent shooting, were limited to 27.8 percent from the field by the Blue Devils.

“We actually did some good things,” associate head coach Leon Rice said. “We guarded pretty well, but we put too much pressure on the defense when you can’t score.”

Duke’s defense was a factor, Rice said, but some of GU’s problems were self-inflicted with numerous Gonzaga misses from close range, 10-of-21 free-throw shooting and 18 turnovers.

Following tonight’s game, EWU returns to Big Sky play against Sacramento State on New Year’s Eve. It’ll be the Eagles’ first home game since Dec. 12.

“To be honest, I’m more worried about my team than Gonzaga,” Earlywine said. “I’m not trying to downplay the game or disrespect Gonzaga at all, but we have to deal with our offensive issues that have cropped up the last nine days.”

Gonzaga has tough non-conference dates – Oklahoma on Thursday and Illinois on Saturday – before opening its WCC schedule at Portland on Jan. 9.

And some notes/quotes:

--Earlywine hasn’t lost his sense of humor in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

Asked if he’s more worried by A). Gonzaga’s guards. or B). bigs, Earlywine went for C). all of the above.

“Yeah, I’m worried about the guards, the big guys, all of that worries me,” he said. “Bouldin may be my favorite guy to watch in all of college basketball. He’s tough, his skill level, how hard he competes … I really enjoy watching him play. They have very good players and they're extraordinarily well coached.”

--Rice said all the Zags were back on campus for Christmas Day night practice. The team had a pair of practices on Saturday and one more Sunday. Weather impacted several players’ flight plans home, but they were able to make their destinations, as well as be on time for their returns to Spokane.

--Former EWU head coach and current GU assistant Ray Giacoletti has the scouting report for the Eagles game.

--Rice has seen EWU play a couple of times, one of those a 67-61 loss at Washington State on Nov. 16.

“They had a tough tournament in Las Vegas, but coach Earlywine is making a lot of progress,” Rice said. “They’re not without talent.”

--Rice said there are obviously things to work on, particularly on the offensive end following the 76-41 loss to Duke, but said the last thing GU wants to do is “overreact.”

--I wrote a Dec. 24th article on how some of the Zags spent the holiday – the link is here. At the time, Robert Sacre’s plans weren’t solidified. Turns out Robert Sacre’s mom came down from Canada for a visit.

The 4-5 day break was one of the longest GU has enjoyed in recent years, Rice said.

--EWU's last win in the series: 70-55 on Jan. 8, 1990. GU won the seven before that game and the last 21.

--EWU’s Brandon Moore will play in his 100th career game on Monday. Moore, EWU’s second-leading scorer at 10.8 points per game, has scored just 5, 5, 7 and 5 points in the last four games. He played just 15 and 18 minutes, respectively, in the two Vegas games.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Earlywine said. “His conditioning (has suffered) from having to sit out (due to injury). He and Matt Brunell have missed significant amounts of practice with foot and ankle injuries. And there were times we were playing better without him on the floor.”

--EWU has battled numerous injuries in the first two months, but Earlywine said the team is close to 100 percent. With a couple of more days to heal, Earlywine said Saturday that Brunell could be at full speed for Monday’s game. Brunell is the team’s most mobile interior defender, which means he’ll probably matchup against Elias Harris.

“He’s coming off a pretty good ankle injury,” Earlywine said.

The injuries have left Earlywine without an accurate gauge of his team. “I don’t know which team we have at this point,” he said. “Is it the team that played their butts off in Pullman and played really well in Nevada nine days ago, or the team that shot poorly in three of the four halves in Vegas and couldn’t make a basket.”



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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