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Gonzaga Basketball

Bell, Sacre practice at full speed

Injuries don’t slow Zags; Michigan St. on horizon

Gary Bell Jr. (right) appears recovered from a knee injury. (Associated Press)

Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr. was writhing on the court, his right knee twisted when Illinois’ 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard dove into a prone Bell pursuing a loose ball during Saturday’s game at Assembly Hall.

Bell’s knee hurt and one thought was racing through his mind.

“Oh gosh, this can’t be good,” he told himself.

Two days later, Bell’s knee was, well, good. He practiced full speed Monday. He drove hard to the basket, ran the court, defended on the perimeter and battled for rebounds. He took a spill penetrating the lane and quickly bounced to his feet, signaling with his hands that a defender was guilty of a blocking foul.

Bell went to the McCarthey Athletic Center earlier Monday, hours before practice.

“I was in here shooting, and I could still dunk,” said Bell, smiling. “So I feel good.”

He said the play, which occurred late in Illinois’ 82-75 win, “really scared me because it hurt so bad. Thank God it wasn’t something bad. Luckily it went away pretty much after we iced it after the game.”

The talented freshman guard had another effective performance before exiting for the final two-plus minutes. He made 3 of 4 shots, finished with nine points, including seven in the second half, and three rebounds.

Bell didn’t wear a sleeve or brace on Monday.

Center Robert Sacre, who tweaked his neck in a loose-ball scramble early in the second half, also practiced full speed.

“I got a little work on it (Sunday). I’ll be fine,” Sacre said.

Special guests

Ex-Zags Jeremy Pargo and Adam Morrison attended practice Monday.

Pargo, a Chicago native who drove down to view the GU-Illinois game Saturday, was his usual fun-loving self, playing 100 mph and needling everybody in sight. “I’m getting ready for you, Pangos,” Pargo shouted as freshman guard Kevin Pangos trotted down the stairs prior to practice.

Morrison, who returned to Spokane recently following a successful stint with a pro team in Serbia, and Pargo are hoping to land NBA jobs. Teams were allowed to talk to free agents Monday and can sign them beginning Friday. Pargo didn’t return to Maccabi Tel Aviv this season to pursue a spot in the NBA.

Saturday showdown

Gonzaga, which dropped to No. 23 in the AP poll and No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings, entertains Michigan State on Saturday. The Spartans (6-2) are just outside the Top 25 in both polls. Their only losses are to Duke and North Carolina, both ranked in the AP top seven.

Michigan State is known for rebounding and this season is no different. The Spartans lead the nation in rebounding margin (plus 13.3). Gonzaga was outrebounded by Illinois 30-27 and gave up some key offensive rebounds in crunch time.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if rebounding is our first drill,” said sophomore forward Sam Dower, just before the start of practice. “I think they’re one of the top teams in the nation.”

Homecoming of sorts

Several Bulldogs had friends and family on hand Saturday. Assistant coach Ray Giacoletti, who grew up in Peoria, Ill., about 90 miles from Champaign, and coached at Illinois State, had 15-20 guests in attendance. Marquise Carter and Pangos, who is from Newmarket, Ontario, also had family members in the crowd.

Ten relatives of Dower, a prep standout at Osseo (Minn.) High, drove eight hours to watch him play.

“I haven’t seen them in forever and I probably won’t be going home for Christmas,” Dower said. “The last time I saw them was in May.”