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Gonzaga looking for another fast start in season opener against Alabama State

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 5, 2019

Gonzaga’s track record in season and/or home openers is just about spotless and the Zags are heavy favorites to continue that trend Tuesday.

The Zags are favored by 35 points against visiting Alabama State, but odds and past seasons are of little concern to head coach Mark Few.

“Excited and apprehensive, kind of all of that,” Few said of Tuesday’s opener, which tips off at 5 p.m. “We’ll take some things out on film (from Friday’s exhibition rout over Lewis-Clark State College) and we’re going to be in a mode now where it’s game, rest, practice, practice, game, rest, practice, practice, game. This November is busy.”

Gonzaga has won 15 regular-season openers in a row with its last loss coming to Saint Joseph’s in the 2003 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The Zags have won 30 consecutive regular-season openers at home after falling to Boise State in 1988. Few is 20-0 in regular-season home openers.

The last 10 season openers have been a parade of blowouts with Eastern Washington (77-69 in 2011) the only contest closer than 18 points.

The Zags probably will have just nine scholarship players available. Few said senior forward Killian Tillie is making progress in his recovery from knee surgery but as of late last week he wasn’t a full participant in practice. Freshman guard Brock Ravet is on indefinite leave for personal reasons and the NCAA ruled freshman center Oumar Ballo must sit out this season as an academic redshirt.

That leaves the Zags with three primary guards, starters Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder and backup Joel Ayayi. The wing and frontcourt positions have more depth, but the overall shortage of bodies leaves GU vulnerable to foul trouble or an additional injury.

“I’m prepared for a lot of minutes always,” said freshman forward Anton Watson, who started and scored 28 points in the exhibition game. “We don’t have too many guys on the roster, a lot of injuries and with Oumar’s situation. I have to be prepared at all times.”

Alabama State, 12-19 last season and 9-9 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, was picked to finish fourth in the SWAC preseason poll. The Hornets have December dates against Boise State and Oregon and their first home game is Jan. 11.

Junior guard Jacoby Ross has averaged 12.6 points each of the last two seasons. Leon Daniels and Tobi Ewuosho, a pair of 6-foot-5 senior guards, combined for just over 17 points and 8 rebounds per game last season.

Decardo Day, another 6-5 guard, is a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast. Day averaged 6 points and 3.6 assists in 20.7 minutes per game last season.

Reginald Gee, a second-team All-SWAC selection last season, left for Austin Peay as a grad transfer. The 6-3, 220-pound guard was a three-year starter and paced Alabama State in scoring at 13 points per game last season. Forward Branden Johnson, who started 48 games the last two seasons, opted to join Virginia Tech as a grad transfer.

The Hornets ranked in the top 40 nationally in offensive rebounds (12.35, 30th) and turnovers forced (15.2, 39th) last season. They finished No. 330 in the NET rankings.

Head coach Lewis Jackson, a former standout player for the Hornets, has guided Alabama State to three NCAA Tournament appearances in 14 seasons.

Gonzaga entertains Arkansas-Pine Bluff, picked seventh in the SWAC poll, on Saturday, and Texas Southern, picked second, on Dec. 4.

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