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Zags aren’t looking past Eagles

Coach Mark Few seems to be doing everything in his power to impress on his Gonzaga Bulldogs just how much tonight’s non-conference men’s basketball game against Eastern Washington means – to the Eagles, at least.

J.P. Batista, the Zags’ senior center and second-leading scorer, said Few went so far as to suggest the Eagles (4-4) want this one so badly, they’re breaking from their normal sleep routines.

“Coach said it’s going to be the game of the year for Eastern; that they’re going to sleep in the locker room waiting for the game,” Batista said Saturday night, shortly after the 10th-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) had held off Virginia 80-69.

“It’s a crusade game for them,” Few said of the Eagles, who will be trying to snap a 19-game losing streak in the series, which the Zags lead by a lopsided 49-7 margin. “They seem to save their best effort for us, year in and year out. We know how much they want this game.

“Obviously, the key for us is to match their desire. The game means the world to them, and we’ve got to step up and make it mean that much to us.”

The Eagles are coming off a 91-74 road loss to unbeaten and 11th-ranked Washington on Saturday, and could certainly benefit from an upset win over the Bulldogs. But second-year coach Mike Burns insists this is not an end-all game for his young team.

“This is just another step on the way to getting ready for our conference season,” Burns said of tonight’s showdown. “It’s just another basketball game against another top-15 team, and another great opportunity to get a gauge on where we’re at as a team right now.”

Eastern, which is already half way to last year’s victory total of eight, is led, offensively, by freshman Rodney Stuckey, who is averaging 19.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and four assists per game.

“He’s very, very talented,” Few said of the Eagles’ 6-foot-4 point guard. “And he’s got pretty much the green light to do whatever he wants, which is a dangerous combination. He’s obviously a big key for them, but I think they’re getting good play from their big kids – (Paul) Butorac and (Jake) Bettinger, as well.”

Bettinger, a 6-8 sophomore forward, is averaging 8.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, while Butorac, a 6-10 junior center, is averaging 6.5 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds.

But the matchups still favor GU at nearly every position.

The Bulldogs boast a scoring machine and potential player of the year in junior shooting guard Adam Morrison, who is averaging 28.3 points per game. And they’re getting healthier with each passing day.

Junior point guard Derek Raivio, who had missed the previous two games with a bruised back and hip, played 37 minutes and scored 18 points in Saturday’s win over Virginia, and senior forward Erroll Knight made his season debut after battling back from early season knee problems.

Knight, a 6-6 defensive whiz, played less than two minutes against the Cavaliers, but expects his playing time to increase considerably this evening.

“The timing for those two coming back isn’t exactly perfect for us,” Burns said, “but that’s how it goes.”

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