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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga hoping to extract more lessons from exhibition against familiar NAIA squad

Nov. 1, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 1, 2022 at 5:53 p.m.

Gonzaga's Hunter Sallis speeds past Tennessee defenders on his way to the basket at the Comerica Center in Frisco Texas Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gonzaga's Hunter Sallis speeds past Tennessee defenders on his way to the basket at the Comerica Center in Frisco Texas Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The thought occurred to Matt Gregg last year while watching his son Ben and Gonzaga play an exhibition game against Eastern Oregon at McCarthey Athletic Center.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, they’re in our conference. Why are we not playing them?’ ” said Gregg, the interim athletic director and women’s basketball coach at Warner Pacific, an NAIA level school located in Portland. “I think it was right after that I reached out and said, ‘Hey, we’re next,’ type of thing.”

Gregg communicated the idea to Gonzaga assistant and Portland native Brian Michaelson, the coach who ran point on Ben’s recruitment, then finalized plans with Director of Basketball Operations Jorge Sanz when another one of the Bulldogs’ opponents backed out of a prior commitment, creating an opening on the preseason calendar.

The plans will come to fruition Wednesday, when Warner Pacific visits No. 2 Gonzaga for a preseason exhibition at the Kennel. The game, set to tip off at 6 p.m., will be televised on KHQ.

It’ll be the final preseason tuneup and potentially a confidence-builder for the Bulldogs, who are coming off an 99-80 exhibition loss to No. 11 Tennessee last Friday in Frisco, Texas. Gonzaga’s regular season opens on Monday against North Florida (6 p.m., KHQ) in Spokane.

For Warner Pacific, it’ll be the first stop on a five-day road trip that will see the Knights visit Gonzaga on Wednesday before continuing East to play weekend games against fellow NAIA clubs Montana Western and Montana Tech.

“I think we all kind of understand where this is at,” Matt Gregg said. “Obviously, I want our team to go up and compete and have a good showing and feel good about themselves going into their weekend.

“I want this to be a warm-up where it shows we can go out and compete and play hard, do those kind of things.”

Matt, a lifelong Gonzaga fan who was born in Clarkston and had multiple high school coaching stints in the Spokane area before moving his family to Portland, won’t be able to watch Wednesday’s exhibition in person or follow the live stream, as his Warner Pacific women visit the University of Portland for a 6 p.m. exhibition game on The Bluff.

It’s common for schools at the Division II, Division III or NAIA levels to pursue exhibition games against high-major Division I programs as a way to give players a brief glimpse of big-time college basketball. Matt’s team traveled to Seattle on Monday for an exhibition against the University of Washington women.

“It gives our girls a chance to see a really good facility,” he said. “I think if it went the other way around and they came to our facility, they’d be like ‘Man, we need to be thankful for what we have because these guys have got nothing.’ ”

There’s also a financial component that’s not insignificant for smaller programs like Warner Pacific.

“It’ll cover our cost to go up there and be able to put some money in our pockets,” Gregg said of the Gonzaga trip. “Not a ton, but it’s worth the drive up there for us, for sure.”

As for what the Zags get out of the arrangement?

“Obviously (Warner) is going to run some zone and they’re going to run some man and they’re going to give Gonzaga different looks because that’s kind of how exhibition games work, right?” Gregg said. “You’re going to help the other team out that’s paying you to come up there and play.”

Gonzaga used Warner Pacific’s facilities for walk-throughs and off-day practices last March while playing at the NCAA Tournament in Portland. The Bulldogs are returning to the Rose City for the Phil Knight Invitational later this month and Gregg has offered up gym space again, though finding open time slots for GU could be challenging. The PK85 assigned five other men’s and women’s teams to practice at Warner.

Ben Gregg occasionally works out with members of the Warner Pacific men’s team in open gym settings while back home and he’s played with others during summer Pro-Am events held in the Portland area. He’s familiar with junior guard Thomas Miles, a streaky 3-point shooter for Warner, as well as Dakota Reber, a sophomore guard who began his career at Division I Incarnate Word.

The Bulldogs are hoping to rebound from an exhibition loss that saw them lead at halftime before crumbling at both ends in a second half that saw the Volunteers tear off a 13-0 run and outscore GU 49-26 through the final 20 minutes.

When it was suggested to Drew Timme that Friday’s result didn’t count toward the win-loss column, the All-American forward replied, “Well, thank God.

“That’s why you do these things. That’s the first team we’ve played so far other than ourselves and it’s a good learning experience. I think it’s a good benchmark and we’ve got a lot to work on, but that’s the good thing. … On the whole, I think nothing but good for us, at least from the learning perspective.”

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