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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-Warner Pacific rewind: Dominick Harris’ return a welcome sign, Bulldogs deal with 3-point/free throw woes

Nov. 3, 2022 Updated Thu., Nov. 3, 2022 at 5:32 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Dominick Harris (55) tracks Warner Pacific guard Cade Baker during the second half of Wednesday’s exhibition at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Dominick Harris (55) tracks Warner Pacific guard Cade Baker during the second half of Wednesday’s exhibition at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A 19-point loss to a potential national title contender from the SEC. A 31-point runaway win over an NAIA opponent from the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

The circumstances around Gonzaga’s two exhibition games were drastically different, but both served their purpose for Mark Few and his staff, who turn their attention to a demanding slate of nonconference games. Those promise to get substantially tougher after Monday’s home opener against North Florida at 6 p.m.

Even with the caliber of opponent in mind, there was much more to like about Wednesday’s 101-70 exhibition victory over Warner Pacific in Spokane than Friday’s 99-80 loss to No. 11 Tennessee in Frisco, Texas.

“We got out in front of fans on the home floor and I’d say we were able to get better at the things we asked them to get better at,” Few said. “We didn’t like our rebound effort (against Tennessee), we didn’t like our ball pressure. Certainly did a really good job of that in the first half, especially with our deflections, steals and all that stuff.”

Long time coming

The extent of Gonzaga’s backcourt depth wasn’t clear a month ago, but Dominick Harris’ recent return to full-contact practices – and brief cameos in both exhibitions – could allow the Bulldogs to bring three talented guards off the bench by the time they reach the season’s critical stages.

Harris, who underwent surgery for a foot injury last fall, sat out the entirety of the 2021-22 season and wasn’t cleared to participate fully in practices until the Monday following Kraziness in the Kennel, according to a post on the sophomore’s Twitter account.

After a year away from the court, Harris is still shaking off rust and may need some time to readjust to the speed of the college game. It doesn’t appear the Murrieta, California, native will be part of GU’s guard rotation to open the season after playing 17 combined minutes in the exhibition games.

“It’s been hard, he’s missed a lot of time,” Few said. “So it’s just flowing in basketball and you saw the play where he kind of had a steal and it went right through his hands and fumbled it and the guy lays it in. Just kind of plays like that, so it looks like it’s going to take some more time to get him back up to how he’s capable of playing.”

Harris entered the Tennessee game late in the first half and knocked down the only shot he attempted – a 3-pointer from the left corner. At various stages last season, Few said Harris’ perimeter defense and perimeter shooting would be valuable assets for the Zags whenever he was cleared to return.

In 12 minutes on Wednesday, Harris scored three points, converting a layup to put Gonzaga over the century mark, while going 1 of 2 from the free-throw line. He also had two assists and one rebound.

“I was heartbroken, he was my roommate on every road trip (in 2021-22),” Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther said. “Just trying to help him through those times because we’re playing those big road games and he just wants to be a part of it. So just seeing him on the court, that brings a smile to my face and I know he’s super happy to just be back and able to contribute.

“Obviously, it’s going to take some time for him to get his timing back. He hasn’t played basketball in a year, so he’s just working on getting his timing back, his feel back.”

Kaden Perry, meanwhile, continues to deal with setbacks related to the back spasms that have limited his court time since arriving at Gonzaga. Perry seemed on track to return this season after playing 6 minutes at Kraziness in the Kennel, but the sophomore forward from Battle Ground, Washington, didn’t travel with the team to Frisco and didn’t suit up on Wednesday.

“It’s just the back, back’s giving him a lot of grief,” Few said. “I wouldn’t say he’s close, which is too bad. He’s worked hard and he’s a talent, a real talent.”

(3-point) shooting concerns

Some of the things that transpired during the two-game exhibition slate were predictable. Drew Timme looked like Drew Timme, scoring 17 points against the Volunteers and 21 against the Knights while making 58% of his shots in both games.

Other things fell on the less predictable side.

Gonzaga projects to be a strong perimeter-shooting team this season and possibly even elite at the guard positions. Rasir Bolton made 46% of his 3-pointers last season, Malachi Smith connected on 40% at Chattanooga and Strawther returns after knocking down 36% of his 3s as a sophomore.

But a compilation of solid individual 3-point shooters hasn’t led to team success. The Zags shot 29% from beyond the arc in each of their exhibitions, making 7 of 24 against Tennessee and 9 of 31 against Warner Pacific.

Bolton, Smith and Strawther made just 5 of 19 (26%) against Warner Pacific.

“I felt we got so many clean looks tonight that we might have been just shocked at how open we were,” Strawther said after playing Warner Pacific. “But a lot of uncharacteristic misses. When’s the last time you all saw Ra (Bolton) shoot 1 for 7? It’ll never happen again. I’m not worried about that … I’m sure we’ll get more efficient as soon as the season comes.”

(Free-throw) shooting concernsMost nights, Gonzaga’s 3-point shooting success will be contingent on how opponents elect to guard the Bulldogs, but the same can’t be said about their free-throw shooting – another area of concern for GU after 80 minutes of exhibition play.

Gonzaga went 15 of 26 (57.7%) from the free-throw line against Tennessee and regressed against Warner Pacific, going just 14 of 27 (51.9%).

“I’m on them to shoot them, they’re shooting them every day,” Few said. “That’s incumbent upon them. That’s an individual skill you’ve got to rep out and we always do that here. You’ve got to develop your routine and I’m hoping we’ll shake them out.”

Gonzaga players normally shoot to make 100 free throws before or after practices, “so some dudes might be in there for a minute,” Strawther said, “but it’s what they need.”

Three Zags missed multiple free throws against Tennessee and three more did against Warner Pacific. Nolan Hickman (4 of 4 against Tennessee) and Bolton (2 of 2 against Warner Pacific) were the only GU players without a free-throw miss in the exhibition games.

“It’s definitely a point of concern and coach Few just told us we’ve got to get out 100 free throws up because something ain’t working,” Strawther said. “Whatever we’re doing isn’t working and with how efficient we are and how much we get to the basket. We’re going to be shooting free throws all year and can’t miss front ends of 1-and-1s. Those are essentially turnovers. … We’ve just got to knock them down. There’s not much to be said.”

Gonzaga’s inconsistent free-throw shooting was a conversation topic when Few and Tennessee coach Rick Barnes rehashed the exhibition during a phone call Wednesday morning.

“We went 2 for 11 in the second half,” Few said. “That’s as big a part of why they kind of sprinted away from us in the last 10 minutes as anything. (Wednesday) it wasn’t great either, so they’ve got to figure it out.”

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