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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Anton Watson responds to lineup change with pair of solid games

Gonzaga’s Anton Watson rises for a dunk against Northwestern State on Monday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.  (By Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga sophomore forward Anton Watson put together two of the better games of his young career against Northwestern State.

Those performances came on the heels of him being in the starting lineup Monday and coming off the bench for both halves Tuesday.

Watson has experienced that before, starting the first four games as a freshman while Killian Tillie was injured and then primarily coming off the bench as a shoulder injury shortened his season to 15 games.

Watson had 25 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals, four blocks and four assists in 43 minutes in a pair of wins. He was 8 of 15 from the field and 8 of 9 at the free-throw line.

“We took him out of the lineup to see if that would jump-start him a little bit,” coach Mark Few said. “He looked better on offense. He was back to delivering and jumping up playing athletic around the rim. He got his hands on a lot of balls, that’s what he does better than anybody is use his hands defensively.”

Watson, who had shoulder surgery last January, has only played in 21 games as a Zag.

“My shoulder feels good,” Watson said. “I’ve been working on it and working with (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Travis Knight just building the strength back.”

Watson leads GU with six blocks, followed by Jalen Suggs with four, despite being sixth in minutes played. He’s third with eight steals.

Andrew Nembhard started the second half Monday in place of Watson, who had nine points and four steals in the closing 20 minutes. Watson had 10 points and four boards Tuesday. Nembhard finished with four points, four assists and five boards.

Whether Watson starts or comes off the bench, he’ll have a prominent role.

“That’s something I want to work on, is my confidence and just shooting the ball,” Watson said. “I’m pretty confident in myself and the second half (Monday) felt good. I just need to start the game like that.”

Spotless record

Gonzaga is 6-0 and national pundits, including a CBS Sports podcast, are already broaching the possibility of the Zags running the table. Too soon, senior forward Corey Kispert said.

“I think what they said is pretty outrageous this early in the year,” Kispert said. “There are tons of teams that are going to get a lot better as the year goes on and hopefully we will, too.

“Every game is a challenge and getting up for every single game and playing the best we can is a challenge. Staying prepared is pretty easy with the guys that we have – a lot of talented dudes in the locker room that push each other every day.”

The chatter will only escalate if Gonzaga defeats No. 16 Virginia on Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas. Indiana is the last team to finish a season undefeated (32-0 in 1976). Five teams have posted unbeaten regular seasons since 1976, including Kentucky in 2015.

Barring a scheduling alteration, the Zags probably won’t face another ranked foe the rest of the regular season after Saturday’s game. BYU received votes in Monday’s AP poll and Saint Mary’s received votes in the USA Today rankings.

Gregg update

Newest Zag Ben Gregg went through warm-ups Tuesday after watching Monday’s game from a suite inside the McCarthey Athletic Center. Few said Gregg won’t play in Saturday’s game against Virginia and it’ll take some time to get the 6-foot-10 forward up to speed.

“He’s just getting cleared,” Few said. “He hasn’t practiced and we’re six months ahead of him with practice with all the defensive assignments we have and our offensive intricacies. Just take it day by day, week by week.”

Gregg arrived in Spokane last Saturday. He graduated early from Clackamas (Oregon) High to enroll at Gonzaga and join the program.

“He’s here and able to work out, that’s the most positive thing, being around high-level athletes and really good players,” Few said. “If it’s this year, he’ll play. If he can’t, it’ll be a really good development system for him to get ready for next year.”