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Gonzaga “break” presents a challenge

Kansas State's Rodney McGruder, right, defends as Gonzaga's Mike Hart passes in the first half of Gonzaga win last Saturday in Seattle. (Associated Press)
Kansas State's Rodney McGruder, right, defends as Gonzaga's Mike Hart passes in the first half of Gonzaga win last Saturday in Seattle. (Associated Press)
It’s an interesting portion of the season and schedule for the Gonzaga men’s basketball team. The Bulldogs hope to remain sharp, enjoy the holidays and prepare for perhaps the most difficult segment of their schedule. Gonzaga has a longer break than the last two seasons with eight days between pre- and post-Christmas games. Gonzaga, which remained No. 14 in both major polls, entertains Campbell on Wednesday. Most players will travel Thursday to be with their families for the holiday break before returning for a late afternoon practice Christmas Day. The Zags (10-1) take on visiting Baylor on Dec. 28th. Then GU is off on a long road trip, beginning with No. 24 Oklahoma State and the opening weekend of WCC play against Pepperdine and Santa Clara. “We’ve got two monster (non-conference) games and then it’s on the road for league,” coach Mark Few said. “We hit the most difficult stretch of the season coming up. We need to use these practices and the game (Wednesday) to get better, but again, you’re looking at a season that extends into March and hopefully late March so it’s important to give these guys time off and get them home and get them refreshed. It’s a fine line.” Players have a break from the classroom after taking final exams last week. “With all the time we have, we have practice and we can also come in and get our actual workouts in and work on ourselves mostly during this Christmas break,” junior guard David Stockton said. Junior forward Sam Dower knows opponents game-plan to take away his left hand so he’ll work on counter moves and shots with his right hand.

Wait and see

Gonzaga, like many schools across the country, is waiting to see what happens next in the aftermath of the seven Catholic schools’ decision to leave the Big East Conference and form a basketball-first conference. Most expect the seven – Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul – to add 3-5 schools. Schools mentioned as possibilities include Xavier, Butler, Creighton, Dayton, Saint Louis and Gonzaga. “No one has contacted us, no one has reached out to us,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said after Saturday’s Battle in Seattle. Asked if GU would have interest, Roth said, “It’s way too early to classify any of this. We can’t have any interest unless they tell us they’re interested in us. Again, we’re 2,500 miles away, it’s a long way. I believe those seven schools have a tremendous amount of things to work out before it impacts any school, let alone Gonzaga.” Gonzaga has made 14 straight NCAA Tournaments. Seventeen of GU’s regular-season games will be on ESPN’s family of networks. In addition to finalizing an exit strategy with millions of dollars at stake, the seven Catholic schools are gauging figures of a potential television deal, the New York Daily News reported. “We’re happy with where we’re at but we’re going to continue to monitor everything that’s going on,” Few said. “We’ve built ourselves into a national program and we’re going to do what’s best for Gonzaga. Because of our success, we’ve put ourselves into a position where we’re attractive to other entities out there.” Butler president James Danko issued a statement with similar thoughts. “I greatly respect – and agree with – the collective conviction of the “Catholic 7” to control their own destiny or someone else will. … The fact that Butler is now being mentioned prominently as a potential candidate to join the “Catholic 7” universities in a new athletic league, is a tribute to the success of our athletic program overall and our men’s basketball team in particular. … Our administrators, our coaches, our trustees and our team will continue to do what is right for Butler and its students.”
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