Gonzaga junior center Przemek Karnowski is from Poland but his Spokane circle of friends have relayed the significance of the GU-Washington State game.
“People talk about this game, even my classmates,” Karnowski said. “They’re like, ‘This is the WSU game.’ I didn’t hear that before Arizona. Now before WSU I hear it.”
The ninth-ranked Zags and Cougars collide tonight at 8 at the Arena. Gonzaga has won the last three meetings and 12 of the last 15. The Zags (7-1) are heavy favorites to make it four straight in the series.
WSU, under first-year coach Ernie Kent, evened its record at 4-4 with a 91-71 victory over Texas-San Antonio. DaVonté Lacy made eight 3-pointers en route to his second 31-point effort in three games. Lacy’s 207 career 3s trails Isaac Fontaine by one for sixth on WSU’s all-time list.
“We’re still in the process of determining our identity, who we are as a team, how we want to play, how do you get your stops, who are your go-to guys,” Kent said. “All those things we needed to figure out whereas Gonzaga has all of those things in place already.”
WSU falls between the two biggest nonconference dates on GU’s schedule. The Zags led most of the way before losing in overtime at No. 3 Arizona on Saturday. Gonzaga visits UCLA on Saturday.
“Like I told them after (Arizona) we don’t have that many games,” coach Mark Few said. “We’ve got to be able to play like this every night, where we play this physical and tough and with this much passion.”
Kent has called this Few’s best team, based on the Zags’ inside-outside balance and depth. Kevin Pangos scored 33 points to lead GU past WSU 89-81 three years ago. Pangos made the game-winner in the closing seconds in Gonzaga’s two-point win in 2012. He struck for 27 points in a 90-74 victory last season.
Kyle Wiljter (15.9 ppg) leads five Zags averaging in double figures. Pangos and freshman Domas Sabonis are at 11.8 points. Byron Wesley checks in at 11.1 points, Gary Bell Jr. (10.5 ppg) is hitting 45 percent of his 3s and Karnowski is the top rebounder at 7 per game.
Asked if WSU might consider slowing the pace, a tactic used by Southeastern Louisiana last week, Kent replied, “But see, if I tell you that I’ve told you what I’m going to do. It doesn’t matter what you’re game-planning, whether you’re going slow, fast, zone, box, triangle-and-two, whatever. If we don’t go up there and play with a lot of confidence, if we don’t go up there and shoot the ball it’s going to be long night for us.”
WSU’s last win over a top-10 opponent came against No. 7 Arizona in January of 2007. The Cougars’ last victory over a ranked GU squad was in December of 2006, over No. 18 Gonzaga.
Cougar forward Josh Hawkinson, who was 10th on the team at 6.4 minutes per game last season, has emerged as a sophomore. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and has swatted 13 shots.
Sophomore Ike Iroegbu, who had 20 points against GU in last year’s 90-74 loss, is averaging 7.9 points. Freshman guard Ny Redding chips in 7.5 points and 4.9 assists.
“They’ve got more experience probably than people give them credit for,” Few said. “They’ve got a lot of guys that have played in a lot of games and obviously it’s a local rivalry deal so we’ve got to get our emotions amped up like we did on Saturday.”
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