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Gonzaga Basketball

Guard Silas Melson’s game continues to grow for top-ranked Gonzaga

Gonzaga guard Silas Melson is shooting better than 40 percent on 3-pointers and nearly 87 percent from the free-throw line. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

One of the first things Gonzaga coach Mark Few mentioned to his team after Saturday’s road win over Saint Mary’s was the play of “unsung hero” Silas Melson.

It’s probably not the first time the players have heard those words.

Melson’s development in essentially the last calendar year is one of the reasons last year’s team reached the Sweet 16 and why the current Zags are ranked No. 1.

“He’s a much more confident player,” Few said.

The numbers prove it. In the first 21 games of his sophomore year, Melson was shooting 30.3 percent, 22.9 percent on 3-pointers and 74.2 percent at the free-throw line. In the season’s last 15 games, his percentages soared to 47.9, 41.2 and 79.4, respectively.

It’s the same story this season. Melson, regarded as one of Gonzaga’s best defensive players, checks in at 46.9 percent from the field, 40.5 percent on 3s and 86.5 at the foul line.

So what came first for Melson: rising confidence or improved stats?

“A lot of it is mental,” the junior guard said. “You can always be in the gym. You can be in there 10 hours a day, but if you don’t have the mental aspect ready for games you’re not going to perform at your best.”

Melson flipped the switch just past the midpoint of the 2016 WCC season, becoming a more reliable shooter and scorer while providing his customary adhesive defense.

He carried it over into this season. He’s been one of the team’s steadiest players, whether making a spot start or coming off the bench.

“I’ve tried to assert myself as a leader and as a defender a little more,” Melson said. “We work with (strength and conditioning coach) Travis Knight and we always have our little talks before we lift. Some of it is just looking at yourself, just maturing as a person and trying to grow up.

“You have to look at yourself in the mirror and see if you’re mentally tough enough to play at this level and mentally tough enough to perform at a high level.”

Melson has delivered in several of GU’s biggest wins. He scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds in a 77-72 victory over Florida. He finished with nine points, six rebounds and four assists in a win over Tennessee.

In two wins over Saint Mary’s, he’s 7 of 8 from the field, 3 of 3 on 3-pointers and averaged 9.5 points.

“He put some work in on the defensive end. He’s involved in those numerous ball screen (coverages),” Few said after Saturday’s win. “And then he was a little more aggressive and hunted his shot a little bit probably right when we needed it, because we hit some dry spells midway through that second half.”

Melson’s contribution can be as a subtle as a box-out that leads to a teammate’s rebound or as loud as a drive and high-flying dunk.

It’s been an interesting ride for Melson. He was scheduled to redshirt as a freshman until Josh Perkins suffered a broken jaw. After a down-and-up sophomore season, he’s emerged as one of the team’s most dependable players.

He’s enjoyed the ride.

“It’s been very satisfying and the only way is up,” Melson said. “I’m having a great time.”