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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Defense, fouls and a pickleball pairing?

Gonzaga’s Braden Huff and Anton Watson scored at a high clip, hit 3-pointers, grabbed rebounds and handed out assists in Wednesday’s blowout against Portland.

But what about their pickleball prowess?

“We played a little bit at coach (Mark) Few’s house in the fall,” Huff said. “I like to think I’m pretty good on the team, but that might just be me, I don’t know if the other guys agree.”

How’s your game, Anton?

“It’s decent,” the 6-foot-8 forward said. “I think me and B-Huff would be a crazy duo in pickleball. That’s Team Length right there.”

Team Length and every available Zag on the roster put a 96-64 hurt on the Pilots at the McCarthey Athletic Center. More on why pickleball came up in postgame interviews and how it relates to the basketball court, defending Portland’s guards/wings and Graham Ike’s latest bout with foul trouble in our Gonzaga rewind.

Hand-eye, buckets

Pickleball, a sport close to Few’s heart, came up when the coach was asked about Huff’s touch and finishing ability around the rim. The 6-10 redshirt poured in 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers.

“I haven’t played him in pingpong or pickleball or anything like that, but he’s just one of those hand-eye guys,” Few said. “He’s really done a good job of growing that. He does a great job of finding the ball off offensive boards or just in our flow of offense. That’s what we’re trying to get Graham to do. You just have to find it, that’s what Drew (Timme) did. Guys are looking for you and sometimes you can’t draw up a play or whatever, you just have to find it.”

Huff bumped his scoring average to 10.8 points in 15 minutes per game.

“I don’t know where the hand-eye coordination (comes from), I think it’s kind of natural,” Huff said, “but we’ve got Ryan (Nembhard) and Nolan (Hickman), great guards who are putting the ball right where it needs to be and they make my job easy.”

Huff’s 61.6% shooting is slightly ahead of Watson and Ike for best on the team. Huff hits nearly 35% of his 3s.

“If you play basketball for a long time, you kind of learn that touch,” said Watson, who scored 20 points. “He’s had it since Day 1, since he’s been here. It’s kind of the same thing Drew had. When he gets around the rim, he doesn’t really miss.”

Defense grounds Pilots

Portland’s offense can be a challenge to defend with its emphasis on spacing, multiple bigs that shoot 3s and several playmaking guards.

Tyler Robertson, who can play point or post on offense or defense, is second in the WCC in scoring. Vukasin Masic averages 14.4 points in conference play and Juanse Gorosito checks in at 12.2 with 44.4% 3-point accuracy.

Prior to facing GU, Masic had scored at least 20 points in three of four games and Gorosito was averaging 19.7 points over a three-game stretch. Robertson had five points in the first 7-plus minutes, then went scoreless the rest of the way. Masic and Gorosito combined for 20 of their 25 points in the second half, after GU had built a 50-23 lead at the break.

Watson was the primary defender on the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Robertson.

“He’s a high IQ player, going to draw fouls, not the fastest, most explosive player, but it’s definitely different,” Watson said. “I’ll say he’s a fun guy to guard. I think I’ve matched up against him the past four years. It’s been super competitive. I just take it as a challenge every time I see him.”

Hickman was assigned to the 6-5, 210-pound Masic while Nembhard defended Gorosito. Masic made just 4 of 12 shots. Gorosito was 5 of 12.

“We did a nice job with (Robertson and Masic),” Few said, “and I thought we did a good job on Gorosito, at least in the first half. He’s dangerous, too, and he was really shooting it well coming in.”

Ike battles foul issues

Ike has been in foul trouble several times this season, including against several of GU’s toughest opponents (Purdue, UCLA, USC, Washington, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Saint Mary’s).

He fouled out against Santa Clara in 17 minutes and had four fouls in the other six games. He was called for four fouls in 14 minutes against the Pilots and he was visibly frustrated with the whistles during Saturday’s loss to Saint Mary’s.

“It’s just tough, who knows?” Few said. “It’s all these collisions and wrestling matches and everything going on down there. To me, he plays pretty darn clean, but he’s found a couple fouls lately in these games so hopefully, we can avoid them Saturday” at Kentucky.

Ike has been called for a team-high 60 fouls while averaging 22.5 minutes.