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Gonzaga Basketball

Key matchup: High-scoring Arkansas-Pine Bluff guard Kylen Milton poses familiar challenge for Gonzaga

Gonzaga’s backcourt has had its hands full this season with big guards who like to get downhill and apply pressure at the rim from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

At the Maui Invitational, the Bulldogs dealt with 6-foot-4 Syracuse standout Judah Mintz, who scored 22 points in a 76-57 loss to Gonzaga. Last Saturday against USC, Gonzaga’s guards had to deal with projected lottery pick Isaiah Collier, an athletic, physical freshman who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds.

On Tuesday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Gonzaga’s primary task on the defensive end will be containing another attack-minded guard who does most of his scoring inside the paint.

At 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds, Kylen Milton is somewhere in between Mintz and Collier from a size perspective, but he’s been a more productive scorer than either of them, albeit against a schedule that doesn’t match up to that of either Syracuse or USC.

Milton, who ranks No. 17 nationally at 21.2 points per game, is the first of two 20 point-per-game scorers the Zags will see this week. Washington’s Keion Brooks Jr. is 12th in the country, averaging 21.9 points per game.

A junior who started his career at Western Kentucky, Milton displayed flashes of his potential as a scorer in his first year at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, erupting for a career-high 42 points in the season finale against Alcorn State.

Milton scored 20 points on five occasions in 2022-23 as a part-time starter, but continued to struggle with efficiency, making roughly 37% of his field goal attempts his first two seasons at UAPB.

He has straightened a few of those things out nine games into the 2023-24 season, making at least 60% of his shots in five games and shooting at a 60.8% clip for the season.

Similar to Mintz, Milton is one of the nation’s most effective players when it comes to earning trips to the foul line. The Syracuse guard attempts 8.3 free throws per game, and Milton is a shade better, shooting 8.6 per game.

In UAPB’s season opener against Missouri, Milton scored 34 points and made 15 of 20 free throws. The 20 attempts are tied for the second-most by any Division I player in a single game this season.

Mintz and Collier each had their moments against the Zags, but GU was able to hold both in check, forcing the Syracuse guard into five turnovers and holding the USC guard to 42% shooting.

The Golden Lions have three guards averaging better than 15 ppg, so Gonzaga’s Nolan Hickman, Ryan Nembhard will each have tough assignments. It will likely be Hickman or Stromer starting on Milton on Tuesday night.