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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Key matchup: Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks brings above-the-rim athleticism to Gonzaga-Washington rivalry

Dec. 8, 2022 Updated Thu., Dec. 8, 2022 at 4:41 p.m.

When Gonzaga was preparing for a Nov. 20 matchup against Kentucky, the Bulldogs spent ample time scouting players who transferred into John Calipari’s program – four of whom were in the starting five during an 88-72 Zags win.

Getting to know the Bulldogs’ next opponent, Washington, requires ample research on an outgoing Kentucky player.

The jury’s still out on Mike Hopkins’ latest batch of transfers, especially with former Washington State guard Noah Williams and former Oregon center Franck Kepnang missing extended time with injuries, but Kentucky transfer forward Keion Brooks has steadied UW’s ship in the meantime and should be the focal point of Gonzaga’s scouting report ahead of Friday’s 6 p.m. tipoff at McCarthey Athletic Center.

Brooks was a five-star prospect, the nation’s fourth-rated small forward and one of the crown jewels of Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class that also included current Philadelphia 76er Tyrese Maxey and former UCLA star Johnny Juzang.

The Fort Wayne, Indiana, native started in 42 of the 80 games he played over three seasons in Lexington, reaching career-high scoring (10.8 ppg) and field-goal efficiency (49%) totals in his final season with Calipari.

Brooks was never a go-to option for the Wildcats, but he’s become a do-it-all four-man for the Huskies. His production has been vital for a group that won’t get Kepnang (knee) back before the end of the season, and could be without Williams (leg) for an extended period.

As UW’s scoring and rebounding leader, Brooks is averaging 16.6 points and 7.0 rebounds and he’s more than doubled his blocked shots average, from 0.6 last season to 1.3 this season – a number that ranks eighth in the Pac-12.

Brooks does most of his work inside the paint and isn’t a true threat from the perimeter, making just four 3-pointers through UW’s first nine games. He’s shown a knack for getting to the free-throw line, however, and averages a Pac-12-best 7.9 attempts per game.

Among Pac-12 players, only Oumar Ballo, the former Gonzaga big man who’s now at Arizona, has shot more free throws (61) than Brooks (55).

The Bulldogs have a variety of options when it comes to guarding Brooks, but the senior’s penchant for drawing fouls means Gonzaga will likely keep Drew Timme away from the UW forward in most situations – a tactic that worked for the Zags against Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe.

It should be Anton Watson’s assignment on Friday, but if Gonzaga’s senior forward finds himself in quick foul trouble, the Bulldogs may elect to go to their bench where Ben Gregg has been relatively reliable on the defensive end since his emergence at the Phil Knight Legacy.

Efton Reid III has played sparingly for the Zags, but the LSU transfer is GU’s most athletic big man and should be familiar with Brooks after facing him twice in SEC play last season.

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