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Gonzaga’s defense bewilders rivals

The numbers have told the story, good or bad, of Gonzaga’s 3-point defense through the years. Last year, not so good. GU led the West Coast Conference in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense, but ranked sixth in 3-point percentage defense (37.4), just ahead of co-champion Saint Mary’s (38.2). This season, the Bulldogs lead the conference in scoring defense by a wide margin, they’re essentially tied with BYU for first in field-goal percentage defense and they’re third in 3-point percentage defense. The latter is a bit misleading. Opponents are making just 29.7 percent against Gonzaga, easily the lowest in coach Mark Few’s 13 years. Gonzaga led the conference at 31.6 percent in 2006. “It’s been an emphasis, especially at the beginning of this year and with what happened last year,” sophomore guard David Stockton said. “We work on close-outs, making sure we contest every shot. “Even if we’re in the paint and the guy’s got it (behind the 3-point line) we just have to do something to maybe throw him off a little bit. “I think we’re more disciplined in our defensive strategy and we fly around and have a little more pride in it.” It’s not as easy as 1-2-3. “I think we’re listening to the scouting report more than we have in the past,” Few said. “And having a little bit of size out there with Guy (Landry Edi) and Mike (Hart) helps. Gary (Bell Jr.) is really good about taking the scouting report and being disciplined to play the screen or the guy the right way probably 90 percent of the time.” The season started ominously as Eastern Washington hit 13 of 29 (44.8 percent), followed by Washington State (9 of 20, 45 percent) and Hawaii (7 of 14, 50 percent). Since then, only Michigan State (46.2 percent) has been better than 38.1 percent and only Saint Mary’s and Pepperdine have made more than seven 3s in a game. Five of Gonzaga’s last six opponents have failed to reach 30 percent. “Our guys have really understood who they’re guarding, if they’re a 3-point shooter or a driver,” Hart said. “Knowing the personnel and improving your footwork really helps to guard those guys.” It’ll be particularly important when the Bulldogs visit Santa Clara on Thursday and San Francisco on Saturday. Santa Clara has made 8.2 3s per game, tops in the conference, while USF is fourth at 6.7. The Broncos, tied with GU for first in 3-point accuracy at 36.8 percent, have attempted 560 3s, 152 more than their opponents.

On the mend

Stockton, who sprained his left ankle in Gonzaga’s win over Loyola Marymount on Saturday, said Tuesday, “It didn’t feel very good when I did it but it’s feeling pretty good now.” He participated in practice and expects to play this week. Sophomore wing Mathis Keita, who sprained his left ankle in Friday’s practice and missed Saturday’s game, spent a good portion of the first half of Tuesday’s practice riding a stationary bike. Freshman forward Ryan Spangler played four minutes in GU’s games last week after missing three weeks with a broken left pinkie finger.

Stepp to be honored

Former Gonzaga men’s basketball standout Blake Stepp (2001-04) will be among nine inductees into the WCC’s Hall of Honor on March 3 at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas. The ceremonies are held annually in conjunction with the WCC men’s and women’s tournaments at the Orleans Arena. Stepp is joined in the 2012 class by BYU’s Elaine Michaelis (volleyball/administration), Loyola Marymount’s Billy Bean (baseball), Pepperdine’s Dana Jones (men’s basketball), Portland’s Kasey Keller (men’s soccer), Tom Candiotti of Saint Mary’s (baseball), San Diego’s Thomas Burke (administration), San Francisco’s K.C. Jones (men’s basketball) and Santa Clara’s Kurt Rambis (men’s basketball). Stepp was the WCC player of the year twice and he made Associated Press second-team All-America in 2004. On GU’s career lists, Stepp ranks first in 3-pointers made (288) and attempted (755), second in assists (640), sixth in steals (152) and seventh in scoring (1,670 points). Bulldogs previously honored include Brian Ching, Jeff Brown and Frank Burgess.
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