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Gonzaga Basketball

Key matchup: Forward Matt Knowling paces Yale’s balanced attack

Yale has several possibilities for key matchup with four double-digit scorers returning from last year’s squad, but the nod goes to 6-foot-6 junior forward Matt Knowling.

Knowling was Yale’s leading scorer last season, finishing at 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists while earning unanimous All-Ivy League first-team honors.

Those numbers only tell part of Knowling’s impact. His scoring average climbed to 14.9 points per game after scoring 22 points against Columbia, but he suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the ensuing game vs. Penn in mid-February.

He was sidelined for three games before averaging just 7.3 points in the season’s final three games when he didn’t seem fully healthy. Yale was 1-2 when he returned, losing to Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament championship and falling to Vanderbilt in the first round of the NIT. Knowling was limited to a season-low two points against the Commodores.

Knowling has been dealing with an ankle injury recently and didn’t start in Monday’s blowout win over Vassar. He came off the bench to finish with seven points, four rebounds and two assists in a 14-minute stint.

Knowling is probably in a similar situation as Gonzaga forward Graham Ike, who is building up his stamina after missing last season with a foot injury. Ike played 19 minutes in Friday’s exhibition rout over Lewis-Clark State.

Knowling is one of the most efficient players in Division I. He paced the Ivy League and was 10th nationally at 62.5% from the field. GU’s Drew Timme (61.6%) and Anton Watson (60.8) were close behind.

Knowling hasn’t been much of a 3-point threat. He was 3 of 9 from 3 last season, but he hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer in his past 15 games. He also struggled at the foul line, connecting on just 60%.

The 6-8 Watson could be a primary defensive option on Knowling, depending on Yale’s starting unit. Danny Wolf, a 7-foot sophomore, and 6-7, 250-pound sophomore Nick Townsend were in the first five against Vassar.

Gonzaga’s Steele Venters, who likely guarded Knowling at some point in Yale’s victory over Venters’ former school Eastern Washington at a tournament last November in Hawaii, is sidelined for the season with a knee injury.

Freshman Dusty Stromer figures to step in for Venters and could see time on Knowling and/or 6-6, 205-pound John Poulakidas, who averaged 12.2 points and hit a team-leading 67 3-pointers last season. Jun Seok Yeo, a 6-8 forward from South Korea, is another option for GU at the ‘3’ or ‘4’.