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Blanchette column: Kyle Dranginis back to doing his thing for Gonzaga Bulldogs

John Blanchette Correspondent

He had been Gonzaga’s Swiss Army knife for three seasons, in a game that saves its adulation for daggers. But, hey, sometimes the job calls for a corkscrew or a file.

Still, the multi-use benefits aren’t always the takeway from watching or thinking about Kyle Dranginis in a Bulldogs uniform.

Sometimes it’s the phrase “hiding in plain sight.”

Or playing sight, if you prefer.

It is one thing to be overshadowed by the silly-putty stats and national profiles of teammates Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis. Or even to be a victim of what seems at times to be a fallback reticence, or to not immediately produce in a manner equal to the outsized expectations of Gonzaga’s army of acolytes.

But a chameleon can sometimes envy Dranginis’ ability to blend in.

Take Saturday night. In a game in which two backup guards made major leaps into relevance – for an evening, anyway – and the 7-footer on the bench logged more serious and helpful minutes than he has all year, there was Dranginis subtly, happily, doing those things he does – though not all of them, because sometimes the job doesn’t call for tweezers or scissors.

In the end, the Zags’ 86-48 obliteration of San Francisco didn’t turn on any single contribution by Dranginis or anyone else, but on the power of the ensemble and everyone remembering his lines all the way to the curtain drop.

And for a night, some of the odd heaviness weighing on a 17-5 team was lifted.

“Everybody’s happy – you can tell,” Dranginis said in the locker room afterward. “There’s chatter in here, it’s more lively. It feels good.”

Probably because it was a little more than one of the Zags’ traditional home-court undressings of an overmatched West Coast Conference brother. Consider that the Dons had Gonzaga beat four weeks ago in the Bay Area before wilting in the last three minutes and have evolved into one of the league’s most potent offenses – 87 points a game over its previous nine.

There was also the business of actually keeping the engine gunned for 40 minutes – and, yes, aesthetics.

“We were getting layups, open 3s, guys are playing off one another,” said guard Eric McClellan. “That’s beautiful basketball – and that’s what this program embodies.”

Which has made the damaging unsightly stretches this season stick out even more – and has occasionally put individual players in the public crosshairs in ways this program hasn’t regularly experienced.

Kyle Dranginis being just one example.

His versatility and impact on games in a sixth-man role spawned all sorts of presumption of what he would accomplish as a starter and 30-minute guy as a senior and the most veteran presence in a program graduating a lot of that. Some of it was actually seen during the Zags trip to the Bahamas –and then it seemed to go away. The low point was the three-game stretch when Gonzaga lost to Arizona and UCLA and narrowly escaped against Montana – Dranginis scoring just two points in that span.

“At times early, we were kind of trying to get a 9 hitter to hit in the 3 hole,” coach Mark Few said. “That’s not his deal. He’s better when he can assess the game and bring what he brings, and he’s really valuable doing that.”

Eventually, the coaching staff moved him back to the sixth-man role – and then back into the starting lineup after strong efforts against San Diego and Saint Mary’s.

Against USF, the scoring wasn’t there so much – nor did it need to be – but he had 10 rebounds and four assists, and his defensive work was no less stellar than against Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge on Thursday night.

“Knock wood or whatever, but that’s two weeks now where he’s been the guy we all envisioned him being this year,” said Few. “Not like it’s been perfect every night, but he’s giving great effort, rebounding, passing, shooting.”

And, of course, there was the obligatory Dranginis Play. As Sabonis missed a free throw early in the second half, Dranginis slid for the rebound, then kicked it to Wiltjer for an open 3 – a signal, perhaps, that there would be no second-half lapse.

“The spirit of Mike Hart there,” Few said.

Dranginis has made nine of his last 21 3-pointers – 43 percent – and said he knows now “what’s a good shot for the team and what’s a bad one. Mostly, I realize I need to take shots for the team to be better.”

All of GU’s guards have had their trials – surely no one was more relieved to see Silas Melson’s shooting breakout against USF than Melson himself. Now it’s about sustaining gains like that.

“I think everyone is stopping the mind games with themselves and realizing it’s basketball,” Dranginis said. “We’ve been playing this game our whole lives. It’s not like we can’t do it – we’ve shown we can.”

And there’s no sense hiding it now.

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