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Zags return to the fire against Bears

After easy victory, GU faces its fifth ranked foe

After a one-game break, the Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball team returns to its rugged nonconference schedule today, taking on No. 9 Baylor in Dallas.

The Bulldogs (5-5) routed NAIA Lewis-Clark State College on Thursday night, but there wasn’t much time to celebrate. They boarded a bus early Friday to catch an 8 a.m. charter flight to Dallas. The Bears (7-0) will be the fifth ranked opponent thus far on Gonzaga’s schedule. Meanwhile, Baylor has seven double-digit home wins.

The GU-Baylor game is the nightcap of The Showcase doubleheader at American Airlines Center. Texas A&M meets Arkansas in the opener.

“You don’t see teams with their size and length and just the ability to create things with how long they are, whether it’s offensive plays around the rim or changing your shot or getting a hand on the ball in the half-court defense,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “And they have a phenomenal wing in LaceDarius Dunn. They’re going to be a handful.”

Even with the loss of forward Ekpe Udoh, who helped Baylor reach the Elite Eight before being picked sixth overall by Golden State in last year’s NBA draft, the Bears feature a sizable front line to complement Dunn, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard who has seven straight 20-point games, dating back to last season. He needs 24 points to become No. 2 on Baylor’s career scoring list.

Anthony Jones (6-10), Quincy Avery (6-7) and Perry Jones III (6-11) anchor Baylor’s interior. They combine to average 36 points and 25 rebounds a game. According to Baylor’s media guide, the three have a combined wingspan of 21 feet, 5.5 inches.

“You have to be patient and move the ball and not turn it over,” said Gonzaga guard Steven Gray, who expects to play after departing Thursday’s game with a toe injury. “It’s an interesting zone just because it’s so long and athletic. We can’t let that speed us up.”

Baylor ranks fourth in scoring defense (54 points per game), fourth in rebounding margin (plus 12.5), sixth in field-goal percentage defense (36.1) and ninth in scoring margin (plus 21.7).

“It’s a 1-1-3 (zone) and it’s extended, almost out to half court,” Few said. “Sometimes making passes is hard and you get into the interior of it and it’s basically 7-footers in there.”

La Salle’s 64 points were the most scored against Baylor this season. Arizona State shot 47 percent from the field, made eight 3-pointers and still managed just 54 points.

“Gray can score in bunches and LaceDarius can score in bunches,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They have a good front line with a lot of size and we have a good front line with a lot of size. I think it’s going to be an intriguing matchup.”

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