Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

USF coach frets about Bulldogs’ size

 (The Spokesman-Review)

SAN FRANCISCO – Jessie Evans simply shut down his DVD player earlier this week, declaring he, too, had become a believer.

The first-year University of San Francisco men’s basketball coach had been watching video of 11th-ranked Gonzaga in preparation for tonight’s West Coast Conference showdown against the Bulldogs that tips off at 7 in War Memorial Gymnasium.

After several viewings, he said he had seen enough to confirm that everything he has heard about the Zags is true.

“I’ve been around, and I think they’re as good as advertised,” admitted the former Arizona assistant, who spent seven seasons as the head coach at Louisiana Lafayette before hiring on to replace Phil Mathews at USF last spring. “Obviously, they’re a top-25 basketball team.

“The thing I like about them is they have every base covered. They have good size, good perimeter players, and it seems to me they enjoy playing together. You have to love those kinds of teams.”

GU (13-3 overall, 3-1 in the WCC) took over sole possession of first place in the WCC with an 86-62 rout of Pepperdine last Saturday and will once again rely on the inside strength of Ronny Turiaf, J.P. Batista and Sean Mallon to maintain its dominance over the Dons.

The Bulldogs have won 13 straight in the series, and Evans is convinced the key to ending USF’s slide is to find a way to deal with the Zags’ tall and talented front line.

“You can’t give up all those easy baskets to Ronny and Batista,” he explained. “And even Mallon is capable of scoring in there, so you’ve got to double (team) all of those guys. If you try to guard them one on one, they’re just going to pound you to death, because they’ve got so many quality guys inside who know how to finish.”

The Dons hope to counter GU’s inside muscle with the outside scoring of senior guard John Cox, the WCC’s leading scorer.

Cox, a 6-foot-5 senior, is averaging 22.1 points per game, the 15th-highest total in the nation, and will once again be the focus of GU’s defensive effort.

“We’re not going to try to deny him the basketball, because you know he’s going to get it,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said of Cox, who scored 31 in last Saturday’s 78-73 overtime win over San Diego. “You just have to make him take tough shots. You’ve got to make them all tough and not let him get going.”

Few said he expects USF to present many of the same problems it did under Mathews, who prided himself on having his players play as hard as any in the league.

“It’s the same cast of characters,” Few explained. “But they seem to be playing a lot more free on offense, and with a lot more confidence, which makes them really dangerous, especially at home.

“Cox is Kobe Bryant’s cousin, and he’s been scoring it like Kobe does. And Tyrone Riley (a 6-7 junior forward averaging 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds) is kind of enjoying the freedom he has, too. Any time a good player has freedom, it really makes him hard to guard.”

Evans said he likes the way his players have responded to the coaching change, but admits he would like to see a higher total in the wins column of USF’s record.

“We’ve got good people with the right intentions in mind,” he explained. “But with that being said, we still think we should be a little further along. We like to do things a little bit quicker than they’re accustomed to, but they’re making the effort and giving me everything the have, and I’m OK with that.

“We’re disappointed with where we’re at right now as far as Ws and Ls go, but we’ve gotta live with it. We don’t think we’re ready for a top-25 team, either, but, hey, it doesn’t matter – that’s what we’ve got.”