The sequence started with a driving dunk from Jun Seok Yeo. As soon as he lured his defender into the air with a pump fake, the Gonzaga forward slipped into the lane, taking two dribbles with his left hand before clearing the ground for a two-handed dunk.
Luka Krajnovic followed with a transition layup on the Bulldogs’ next possession and Pavle Stosic turned away a point-blank shot from Riley O’Harra, triggering another fast-break opportunity that culminated with Yeo tossing ahead to Colby Brooks for a transition dunk.
Gonzaga’s starting unit delivered its share of highlight plays in the first half against NAIA Eastern Oregon, but the entertainment level didn’t necessarily decline when Bulldogs coach Mark Few emptied his bench in the second half of Tuesday’s 123-57 nonconference win at McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We love to see it,” senior forward Anton Watson said. “Any time they get a chance to go out there and play, just play really and get some live minutes. They played great today. They brought the energy for us at the beginning of the game, getting hyped when we scored so we tried to do the same when they’re playing. Yeah, we thought they played amazing today.”
Before we turn our attention to Monday’s showdown against No. 2 Purdue at the Maui Invitational, a few more notes on the bench players who took advantage of extended playing opportunities during a 66-point blowout at the Kennel.
Eight or nine deep?
Tuesday’s game didn’t move the needle for Gonzaga’s NET or KenPom ratings, but it still served a purpose for a team that’s tinkering with lineups and contemplating how many players it can rely on to play key minutes next week.
The tests not only get tougher but also more frequent at the Maui Invitational, with Gonzaga playing three games in as many days on the University of Hawaii’s campus.
Of the seven players that have seemingly locked down spots in GU’s rotation, five are wings/forwards. Few’s already suggested he’ll lean heavily on guards Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman, particularly in the early stages of the season, but Tuesday’s game gave GU’s coach a longer look at freshman Krajnovic, another player who could factor into the rotation next week.
The Zagreb, Croatia, native got an extended run against EOU, overcoming some shaky moments early in the first half before settling in to finish with seven points, four rebounds, two assists and four turnovers.
“I thought his first run wasn’t good, but his second one was better at the end of the half,” Few said.
“Obviously, much better in the second half. He’s a big guard, we’ve just got to get him to tighten some things up.”
Krajnovic, who missed three of his first four shots during his initial stint, had a longer shift in the second half, re-entering the game when Nembhard and Hickman checked out. The 6-foot-5 freshman subbed in with 15 minutes remaining and didn’t come back out, committing all four of his turnovers during that stretch but also producing a handful of offensive highlights, including a 3-pointer and a transition dunk that was succeeded by a dubious technical foul call for hanging on the rim.
“I think he’s going to have to gap guys a little bit on the perimeter and not foul,” Few said of Krajnovic, “but there’s definitely some things to work with there.”
The Zags don’t have the same depth concerns in the frontcourt, but Yeo, as the third forward off the bench, may still have to play spot minutes in Honolulu. Few’s been cautious not to overwork Graham Ike coming off a foot injury.
While the Wyoming transfer is likely to see an uptick from his current average of 19 minutes per game, GU’s coach has indicated it could still be a while before the 6-9 forward is able to give the Bulldogs 30-35 minutes.
Yeo, like Krajnovic, overcame a few rough patches to finish with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The Seoul, South Korea, native missed all three of his 3-point tries, but displayed some bust driving to the rim on dunks in the first and second half.
“Yeah, he did some things, especially when he did settle down,” Few said. “He’s a work in progress, Luka’s a work in progress, but they need minutes like that to kind of be able to play through some things and kind of figure it out.”
Positives for Pavle
Stosic was essentially playing catch-up as soon as he got to Gonzaga. The Serbian forward didn’t arrive in Spokane until the end of September, well after the rest of his teammates reported back to campus for preseason workouts.
At some point after settling in to his new home, Stosic endured another setback that delayed his progress, suffering a concussion in practice, Few told reporters on Tuesday evening.
Stosic is still making up for lost time, but Gonzaga’s coach said “it was really nice” to get the 6-9, 215-pound forward onto the court for live action against EOU.
“Pavle had the concussion and so he was out for a while,” Few said. “Pavle’s going to eventually help us here. He plays hard, he’s tough, flies around, he’s got a nice skills package, too. It was great to kind of get him back and get him going a little bit.”
Making his college debut, Stosic played the final 8 minutes, 19 seconds, finishing with two points and two blocked shots.
With 5 minutes left, he recovered to the basket to swat the ball out of O’Harra’s left hand, leading to the Brooks dunk.
Stosic missed both of his 3-point attempts, but his lone basket – a layup with 35 seconds remaining – gave the Zags their 52nd field goal, breaking a single-game school record.
Joe says no
You’d probably have a good chance at guessing four or the five players who contributed to Gonzaga’s seven blocked shots against EOU.
Stosic was responsible for two of those. Braden Huff, Ben Gregg, Ike and Watson each pitched in one of their own.
As for the fifth Zag to find his way onto the blocked shot column? That was none other than Joe Few, a 6-0, 170-pound walk-on guard who made an impressive defensive play on the Mountaineers’ Porter Abrams with 16 seconds left in the second half.
When Abrams caught the ball on the edge of the paint, Few, the son of GU’s head coach, slid over from the weak side to contest, stripping it away from Abrams as the EOU guard was in the air.
Few’s first career block was followed by a loud, collective eruption from the Kennel Club, Gonzaga’s bench and nearly every other spectator who stuck around to catch the final minutes Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if I want to encourage that behavior,” Mark Few said with a laugh during his postgame news conference. “I think he’s built more for charges and rakes than he is for blocks, but yeah, somehow he pulled it off. I guess that reinforces that type of behavior, but it was obviously good to see his whole crew there at the end get out there.
Joe Few’s first shift came earlier than normal. The junior guard and Gonzaga Prep product checked in with 7:33 remaining in the first half.
He had career highs in minutes (13), points (three) and steals (two) while finishing plus-18 for the game.
“He’s kind of earned it, just with how he’s been playing in practice,” Mark Few said. “We flow better sometimes when he’s in there. He had some nice plays, some nice baskets.”