SEATTLE – Gary Bell Jr. gets a chance to play in front of family and friends. Guy Landry Edi gets a chance to play, period.
And Gonzaga (6-2) gets another chance to beef up its NCAA tournament resume when it takes on Arizona, which is also in need of a signature win, in the ninth edition of the Battle in Seattle. Tip-off is at 1 today at KeyArena.
Bell Jr., who had a decorated career at Kentridge High (Kent, Wash.), has fielded numerous ticket requests, so many that he’s told buddies “family comes first.” Bell Jr. is off to a nice start, averaging 8.8 points and nearly two rebounds per game. He moved into the starting lineup two games ago.
But that’s only half of Bell Jr.’s impact. He’s displayed the same defensive intensity from his high school days and on the AAU circuit that led a GU assistant coach to remark: “He never takes a defensive possession off.”
“He’s been terrific defensively,” head coach Mark Few said. “When we go back and grade the games, he’s been really solid.”
Bell Jr. has guarded point guards, shooting guards and small forwards, including Oral Roberts’ Dominique Morrison on Thursday. The 6-foot-1 Bell Jr. has also played down low in GU’s 2-3 zone.
He’s looking forward to his first opportunity to play at KeyArena, but he doesn’t want to change his approach.
“Keep playing the way I’ve been playing,” he said. “Defensively, just try to lock down on my guy and go from there.”
Bell Jr. acknowledged there will be added incentive against Arizona (7-3), which reloaded from last year’s Elite Eight run with a strong recruiting class that included guards Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner. The latter is returning from a one-game suspension.
“I played against them during AAU,” Bell Jr. said. “I’m looking forward to playing against them, top guys who were ranked ahead of me.”
Edi, who was suspended for the first eight games by the NCAA because he played on a French pro team when he was 15 and 16 years old, will make his season debut. He was permitted to play in Gonzaga’s exhibition win over Carroll College. His last official game action was helping Midland (Texas) College defeat College of Southern Idaho in the NJCAA championship game last season.
“I’m going to bring a lot of energy and try to stop the best player on the other team,” Edi said. “Offensively, I just want to make the simple play, not force anything and take shots I need to take.”
The 6-foot-6, 218-pound Edi gives Few more options at both ends of the floor.
“He can really defend at a high level and he can make those,” said Few, pointing at Edi as he buried a 3-pointer in Tuesday’s practice. “I think he can score off the dribble a little bit and he’ll rebound well for his position. It’ll probably alleviate us having to play three little guys so much and it’ll help us defensively.
“We’ve been moving parts around to try to hide these guys from getting posted up or getting blasted on the offensive glass.”
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