Gonzaga Bulldogs

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Przemek Karnowski #24 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs attempts a shot during the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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No. 8 Gonzaga outlasts depleted No. 16 Arizona

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No. 8 Gonzaga jumped out to a 23-9 lead and held on as No. 16 Arizona rallied down the stretch, beating the Wildcats 69-62 in Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The Bulldogs got 18 points and a pair of blocks from 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski’s whose impact on this game cannot be measured by the box score. Karnowski is an unbelievable passer out of the post, but he’s also a terrific scorer that almost has to be double-teamed. And when that double-team comes, the ball is out of his hands and into the hands of an open teammate.

The big man is also a force on the defensive end of the floor, where his size allows him to take up space in the lane and his length causes all kinds of problems for players trying to finish in the paint.

That’s worth noting because he isn’t anywhere near to being the most-heralded player on that roster. That title probably goes to Nigel Williams-Goss, who was all-Pac 12 at Washington. Or Jordan Mathews, who averaged 13 points the last two seasons at Cal. Johnathan Williams III was a top 50 prospect. Zach Collins was a McDonald’s All-American. Josh Perkins was recruited by Kentucky.

Point being, this is a very good Gonzaga team, one with talent and depth.

And Karnowski is as important as anyone on the roster.

It’s also worth noting here that Arizona put up an impressive fight for a team playing with seven guys right now. Parker Jackson-Cartwright sprained his ankle Wednesday night. Allonzo Trier still isn’t playing. And the Wildcats fought back from 14 points down in the first eight minutes to make this a game down the stretch.

Arizona has a lot of issues right now.

But there’s still talent on this roster and this is still a team of kids that are going to battle every time they take the floor.

College Basketball Talk Top 25

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - NOVEMBER 14:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats goes up for a shot against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena on November 14, 2016 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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1. Villanova (6-0, Last week No. 1): The Wildcats hold steady at No. 1 this week as they weren’t tested.

2. Kentucky (6-0, 2): The more we watch Michigan State the less impressive that win looks for Kentucky. They’ll get UCLA at home on Saturday. We’ll know a lot more then.

3. Kansas (5-1, 4): The Jayhawks cruised right along with a title in the CBE Classic and a blowout win over UNC Asheville.

4. Duke (6-1, 5): Grayson Allen left a game because his foot was bothering him and it looks like none of the three injured freshmen will be available against Michigan State on Tuesday. We won’t know just how good Duke is for a while longer.

5. North Carolina (7-0, 6): There’s an argument to be made that North Carolina has been the most impressive team in the country this season. They haven’t won a game by fewer than 15 points yet.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

6. Gonzaga (6-0, 8): The Zags did what we expected them to do, cruising to a title in the Advocare Invitational. It was more difficult against Iowa State than it should have been.

7. Xavier (6-0, 12): The Musketeers are starting to fly a bit under the radar. Their 22-point win over Northern Iowa on Saturday is better than you may realize.

8. Baylor (6-0, 15): The Bears are the only team in the country with four top 40 KenPom wins. they deserve this ranking for now. We’ll see if they can keep this thing rolling all year long.

9. Creighton (6-0, 16): The Bluejays look like one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams once again.

10. Virginia (6-0, 10): The Wahoos, on the other hand, are the nation’s most stingy defensive team.

11. UCLA (8-0, 13)
12. Indiana (5-1, 3)
13. Louisville (5-1, 9)
14. Purdue (5-1, 19)
15. Saint Mary’s (5-0, 21)
16. Wisconsin (5-2, 17)
17. Rhode Island (5-1, 20)
18. South Carolina (6-0, NR)
19. Syracuse (4-1, 14)
20. Maryland (7-0, 22)
21. Cincinnati (5-1, 23)
22. Iowa State (5-1, NR)
23. Michigan (5-1, 22)
24. Butler (6-0, NR)
25. Arizona (5-1, 11)

DROPPED OUT: No. 7 Oregon, No. 18 Virginia Tech, No. 24 Dayton
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 South Carolina, No. 22 Iowa State, No. 25 Butler

No. 11 Gonzaga survives comeback attempt from No. 21 Iowa State

SPOKANE, WA - NOVEMBER 14:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs goes to the basket against the San Diego State Aztecs in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on November 14, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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Nigel Williams-Goss had 18 points and No. 11 Gonzaga hit 13 threes to beat No. 21 Iowa State, 73-71, for the title in the Advocare Invitational.

Gonzaga took a 49-34 lead into the break as we saw just how good this Zags team can be on the offensive end of the floor.

They began the game on fire from beyond the arc, as Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss couldn’t miss.

When Iowa State was forced to try and run the shooters off the three-point line, it opened up the paint for Gonzaga’s massive front court to take advantage of Iowa State’s lack of size.

None of that should surprise you.

We knew how good this Gonzaga team could and should be this season.

They should have cruised through this tournament field relatively unscathed, but Iowa State gave them a fight in the second half on Sunday afternoon.

And that, to me, was the real story of the Advocare Invitational.

More than the 29 points, 12 boards and two blocks that Deonte Burton produced on Sunday – critical in its own right, which I’ll get to in a second – what was so impressive about this game was the fact that Iowa State was able to fight back from a huge hole based on the strength of their defense just a day after holding Miami to .789 points-per-possession in a semifinals win.

Iowa State held Gonzaga to just 24 second half points and 29.7 percent shooting from the floor. After the Zags torched them for 22 points in the paint in the first half, Iowa State held a team with four players taller than the tallest Cyclone to just four points in the paint in the final 20 minutes. At the same time, the Cyclones were able to get seven offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points, which matters because it proves that their attempts at playing small-ball can work against the biggest teams in the country.

That’s where Burton comes into the equation.

He had 21 of his 29 points in the second half. He was hitting jumpers when bigger Gonzaga defenders played off of him and beating them off the dribble when they came out to respect his stroke. He almost single-handedly forced Gonzaga to switch to a 2-3 zone, and then became the thorn in their side in the lane, getting to the offensive glass and routinely finding space along the baseline to score.

And he did all of that while holding his own in the paint defensively against the likes of Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins and Killian Tillie.

He even blocked a layup attempt from Przemek Karnowski for good measure.

We cannot expect this kind of performance from Burton on a nightly basis. In fact, if he’s shown us anything throughout his career, it’s that inconsistency is about the only thing he does consistently.

But at least we know now what he can do when he’s playing well.

And Steve Prohm knows that this experiment with small-ball is something that should have success this season.

Former Washington commit narrows list to five

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Daejon Davis #3 of Seattle Rotary Select (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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A top-50 recruit has narrowed his list of college to five, including a school he de-committed from earlier this year.

Daejon Davis, a 6-foot-3 guard, will consider Washington, Gonzaga, Oregon, Arizona and Stanford as his five finalists, he announced Tuesday.

The Class of 2017 prospect from Seattle was previously committed to the hometown Huskies, but re-opened his recruitment in April. He said at the time he would still seriously consider Washington as his ultimate destination.

His five schools certainly have  a west-coast bent with four Pac-12 schools and the home state ‘Zags still in the mix.

“Thank you to all the great schools that have recruited/offered me thus far,” Davis wrote, “I am so blessed to be able to narrow my recruiting down to just these five schools.”

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Strong second half propels No. 19 Arizona to win at No. 13 Gonzaga

Gabe York
Associated Press
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While neutral site games and in-season tournaments can help teams figure out who they are, there’s no test more valuable than having to do so in a hostile environment. No. 19 Arizona played its first road game Saturday afternoon, and despite trailing by as many as 14 points Sean Miller’s team found a way to beat No. 13 Gonzaga 68-63 in Spokane.

And while the Wildcats were much improved offensively in the second stanza, it was their defense and perimeter play that opened the door for a comeback.

Senior guard Gabe York led the way with 14 second-half points while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing out two assists, playing the entire 20 minutes as Arizona made its charge. York scored all 14 of those points during a stretch in which Arizona outscored Gonzaga 22-10, turning a 40-28 deficit into a 50-50 tie with 12:57 remaining. The Wildcats needed someone to step forward offensively to provide a much-needed spark, and he was the one to do so.

Ryan Anderson (11 second-half points) and Allonzo Trier, who was Arizona’s best offensive player in the first half, chipped in as well, with Arizona shooting 50 percent from the field and scoring 20 points in the paint. As opposed to seemingly looking to go “shot for shot” with Gonzaga, Arizona did a better job of getting the shots that worked for them as the second half progressed which resulted in their averaging nearly 1.1 points per possession.

And for those clamoring for the Wildcats to find a “go-t0 guy,” it was York and Anderson who combined for the game-sealing pick and roll with less than 20 seconds remaining. Contrast that with the end of their loss to Providence, which had Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic doing so in a sequence that resulted in a turnover. Saturday’s finish gets Arizona closer to figuring out that particular role, which will only help them down the line.

But the improved offense would not have meant anything Saturday without better play on the defensive end. Without Kaleb Tarczewski (Przemek Karnowski didn’t play for Gonzaga), who is out with a left foot injury, Arizona had to account for the absence of its best interior defender and that was an issue against Gonzaga’s tandem of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.

Wiltjer, who finished with 33 points, and Sabonis (18 points, 16 rebounds), combined to score 32 of Gonzaga’s 38 first half points and to no one’s surprise they were going to be an issue throughout for Anderson, Dusan Ristic and Mark Tollefsen. As a team Gonzaga averaged 0.67 points per possession in the second half, and Wiltjer needed 15 shots to score his 13 second-half points.

So how did Arizona get Gonzaga out of its comfort zone? By making the big men make challenged shots and forcing the guards, most notably Josh Perkins who committed four of his five turnovers in the second half, to make plays. Contrast that with Arizona’s two-headed point guard of Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who combined to commit just one turnover.

The questions surrounding Gonzaga focused on their perimeter play, which is to be expected given just how much they lost from last year’s Elite Eight team. It isn’t easy to replace Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley, which frankly goes without saying. Young players such as Perkins and Silas Melson will continue to develop for head coach Mark Few as the season wears on.

But on this day Arizona’s guards, led by York, won the matchup and that was a major factor in the final result.

Unlike last season’s team, which returned a lot of experience and had clear role definition almost from the start, this current group of Wildcats is still figuring things out and Saturday’s win doesn’t change that. But it does serve as an important result for a team looking to grow into a group capable of winning a third consecutive Pac-12 title.