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Josh Oglesby, Domantas Sabonis

Domantas Sabonis exits Gonzaga’s exhibition win after nasty fall

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Gonzaga earned a blowout win over Eastern Oregon on Saturday night in an exhibition game, but the team lost sophomore center Domantas Sabonis in the first half after he took a hard fall on his back.

According to a report from Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review, Sabonis landed on the small of his back early in the first half. The sophomore tried to return to action later, but showed signs of discomfort:

“He just came down on it (lower back) really hard,” coach Mark Few said. “At this point, I have to sit down and talk to the trainer and we’ll have to see how bad it is. It was giving him some problems when he went back out and tried to play.”

Gonzaga’s rotation is essentially nine deep, counting Sabonis, one of the team’s four bigs. When the 6-foot-11 sophomore headed to the bench following his brief return, he chatted with Few for a few seconds, then swung a towel in frustration. He sat on the bench with a heat pad on his back/hip, rising slowly from his seat during timeouts. He’s expected to see a doctor Sunday.

While it doesn’t seem like Sabonis hurt anything that badly if he tried to play more in a meaningless game, it does give Gonzaga some concerns about how he’ll look in the season opener against Pitt. That’s because the game is being played in Okinawa, Japan as part of the Armed Forces Classic. Gonzaga leaves for Japan on Tuesday, which means the 6-foot-11 Sabonis will have to endure about 18 hours on a plane with a bad back. It’s hard enough for someone that size to be on a flight that long, let alone with an ailing back. Will Sabonis be healthy enough to be a major factor in that game?

Besides Sabonis going down with injury, Gonzaga has to be concerned about its lack of perimeter shooting in the win. The Zags were only 5-for-31 from 3-point range and didn’t shoot particularly well overall. Senior Kyle Wiltjer had a huge outing with 33 points and 14 rebounds, but Gonzaga is going to need more from their backcourt to be an elite team this season.

Saint Mary’s lands Rivals150 guard in Class of 2016

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Saint Mary’s landed an impact guard on Monday as Rivals150 guard Jordan Ford pledged to the Gaels. The 6-foot-0 native of Folsom, California was down to a final three of Oregon State, UC-Santa Barbara and Saint Mary’s before deciding on the WCC program.

Regarded as the No. 138 prospect in the Class of 2016, Ford can score or distribute and should be a really nice fit in head coach Randy Bennett’s system. During the spring and summer with the Oakland Soldiers, Ford played in 20 games and averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He also shot 43 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line in EYBL play.

Ford is Saint Mary’s first commitment in the Class of 2016 and represents a great start going forward for the group.

Gonzaga once again puts together a formidable non-conference schedule

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Annually head coach Mark Few prepares his Gonzaga Bulldogs for WCC play with a challenging non-conference slate that also benefits the team in its NCAA tournament seeding, and that will likely be the case in 2015-16 as well. Thursday, the school released its completed non-conference schedule, and it’s a slate that includes an appearance at the Battle 4 Atlantis and games against Arizona, UCLA and SMU.

Gonzaga will have to account for the loss of guards Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley from last season’s Elite Eight team, but they’re loaded with both talent and experience in the front court with Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Damontas Sabonis all returning to Spokane.

The Bulldogs will open its season in Okinawa with a game against Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Classic November 13. Gonzaga will complete the opening month of the regular season with three games in the Bahamas, with Washington being their first opponent at the Battle 4 Atlantis with Charlotte, UConn, Michigan, Syracuse, Texas and Texas A&M rounding out the field.

December features home games against Arizona (December 5) and UCLA (December 12), and they’ll play Tennessee in the Battle in Seattle December 19. The Bulldogs open WCC play two days after their game in Seattle, with a Pepperdine team that has the players needed to crack the top three visiting The Kennel. Gonzaga’s final non-conference game won’t be played until February 13, when they visit SMU in one of two true road games they’ll play outside of WCC play.

Mountain West, Pac-12 expand officiating alliance to include three other conferences

Mark Few (AP Photo)
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When the Mountain West and Pac-12 announced last year that they would enter into an officiating alliance, one of the goals was to improve uniformity between the leagues when it came to how games were called. Tuesday the leagues announced that they’ve taken another step in this direction when it comes to basketball in the western United States, with the Big West, WAC and WCC joining the alliance.

As a result of this move, five of the six conferences in which most of (if not all) of their members are located in the western United States are part of this alliance with the Big Sky being the lone exception. According to the release, Bobby Dibler will preside over the alliance as the officiating coordinator.

A major focus of the expanded alliance will be training. Prior to the season, Dibler and staff will host a training clinic for all roster officials to review mechanics, game situations, rules knowledge and other key factors to ensure they are among the best trained in the country. Officials from all five of the conferences will participate, furthering the impact of the collaboration on officiating in the western United States.

With the changes occurring within college basketball, including the move to a 30-second shot clock and increased calls to do a better job of allowing freedom of movement, expanding the alliance isn’t a bad idea at all. Of course this hinges on officials not only being consistent with calls but sticking to it the new initiatives throughout the year.

A couple years ago when there was a move to improve freedom of movement, complaints about the length of games eventually led to a return to things being let go by the time conference play rolled around. There will be complaints, especially in games deemed to be “whistle-fests,” but that’s something people will have to deal with as officials and the rules committee look to do things that will improve offensive production.

No. 2 Gonzaga gets past No. 11 UCLA to advance to Elite 8

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source: AP
(AP)

Gonzaga reached the Elite 8 for the first time in 16 seasons under head coach Mark Few on Friday night as they defeated No. 11 seed UCLA, 74-62, in the South Regional in Houston.

Despite a cold-shooting night which saw the No.2 seed Bulldogs go 3-for-19 from 3-point range, the Zags held a comfortable lead for much of the second half as they defeated the Bruins for the second time this season. Gonzaga also beat UCLA in non-conference play on the road, 87-74, on Dec. 13.

Gonzaga (35-2) struggled to find its perimeter touch in the large shooting backdrop of NRG Stadium, but they still won thanks to great post play from Przemek Karnowski and Damontas Sabonis. Karnowski shot 8-for-11 from the field and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds while Sabnois had 12 points and 8 rebounds on his own. Karnowski also added some slick assists as the Zags shot 17-for-23 from the free-throw line to help close out the game.

The Zags had off-shooting nights from junior forward Kyle Wiltjer (eight points, 10 rebounds, 4-for-12 shooting) and senior guard Kevin Pangos (10 points, three assists, three rebounds, 3-for-10 shooting) but out-muscled the Bruins for much of the game.

Byron Wesley also contributed 14 points for Gonzaga.

UCLA had 16 points each from senior guard Norman Powell and junior big man Tony Parker, but they struggled to shoot from the outside as well. The Bruins didn’t make their first 3-pointer until less than 3 minutes left in the game and shot 3-for-13 from 3-point range. Isaac Hamilton also finished with 11 points for the Bruins, who finish the season at 22-14.

If the poor shooting continues in NRG Stadium through the rest of the weekend, then Gonzaga’s Elite 8 matchup will be contingent on who can score in the post more effectively. While Duke’s Jahlil Okafor looms as a potential matchup, the Zags have to feel comfortable with the Karnowski/Sabonis tandem, regardless of opponent. The duo can play together at the same time — and also can score one-on-one in the post as individuals — and gives Gonzaga a tough matchup for Duke or Utah on Sunday.

Gonzaga forward granted an additional year of eligibility

Sacramento State v Gonzaga
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source: AP
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Gonzaga received some good news from the NCAA as forward Angel Nunez received an additional year of eligibility, NBCSports.com confirmed with a source. The redshirt junior started his career at Louisville and transferred to Gonzaga and lost a season due to a concussion before transferring at the semester break.

The 6-foot-8 Nunez is a key reserve for Gonzaga and provides good depth, length and athleticism off the bench. Nunez has played in 21 games this season for the Bulldogs and averages 7.7 minutes per game. In those minutes, Nunez averages 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.

By returning next season, Nunez is an experienced piece who can provide valuable minutes for Gonzaga off the bench. He’s been in plenty of games in his college basketball career and knows the program well. Nunez is a small part of a very successful program, but he does his part nonetheless.