Associated Press

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

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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.

Guard situation unsettled at No. 9 Gonzaga, front court set

Associated Press
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) No. 9 Gonzaga will enter the season set just about everywhere except at guard, a position of stability for years that now raises questions.

Not that coach Mark Few is without potential answers.

Four-year starting guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. graduated along with senior transfer Byron Wesley, leaving the Zags looking for the right back court combination among a host of talented options as they seek another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Freshman Josh Perkins, who is a candidate to replace Pangos at point guard, said practices have been intense as he battles with fellow guards Kyle Dranginis, Eric McClellan and Silas Melson to catch the eye of coaches.

“We are all playing for minutes,” Perkins said. “We’re going to push each other.”

Gonzaga’s situation is settled elsewhere. The Zags return the talented front court of Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski to a team that reached the Elite Eight last season, though Few said “this team is a little void of leaders.”

“This is very much a team that will hopefully be on a growth trend all year,” Few said. “We are trying to hit the Zags standard.”

Much of Gonzaga’s success will depend on the three big men, who are all considered pro prospects.

The 6-foot-10 Wiltjer led the Zags in scoring with 16.8 points per game last season and added 6.2 rebounds.

“Kyle is as skilled a player as there is in college basketball,” Few said. “As skilled as I’ve ever coached.”

Sabonis, the 6-11 son of former NBA center Arvydas Sabonis, averaged 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a freshman off the bench.

“With Domas, you get the heart of a lion,” Few said. “The guy is so physical, tough and aggressive and yet has a good feel for the game.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and blocked 39 shots.

“Shem is the unsung hero in all this and a guy I think will be a solid NBA guy for years,” Few said. “An excellent passer, great footwork and a high-level defender.”

The Zags went 35-3 last season, losing to eventual national champion Duke in the Elite Eight. They were 17-1 in the West Coast Conference, losing only at home to BYU.

WCC coaches have picked the Zags to win their fourth straight league title and 15th in the past 16 years. They have played in 17 straight NCAA tournaments, one of the longest streaks in the nation.

Things to watch at Gonzaga this season:

THE SCHEDULE: Gonzaga plays its typical killer nonconference schedule, designed to make up for playing in the modest WCC. This year they open against Pittsburgh in Okinawa, Japan, play Washington in the Bahamas, host No. 12 Arizona and UCLA in Spokane, play Tennessee in Seattle and SMU in Dallas.

THE GREAT KARNOWSKI: Karnowski, who goes by Shem, is on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year watch list. The native of Poland clogs up the middle with his bulky frame and shot .622 from the field last year. Karnowski played with the Polish national team in the European Championships.

WILTJER DOESN’T WILT: Forward Kyle Wiltjer was named the CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year. Last season he led the team with 16.8 points per game and shot a team-best .466 from behind the arc while making 68 3-pointers. Wiltjer played two years at Kentucky, where he won a national title. Last year was his first with the Zags, and he was named an AP Third-Team All-American.

RELOADING: The cupboard is never bare at Gonzaga. This year they have three transfers sitting out who become eligible next season. They include Nigel Williams-Goss, who led Washington in scoring last season, plus Johnathan Williams from Missouri and Jeremy Jones from Rice.

Three collegians selected for Canada’s Pan-American Games squad

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With the ongoing Pan-American Games and the FIBA Americas Championships scheduled for late August, this summer is an important one for Canada Basketball as head coach Jay Triano looks to lead the team to a spot in next summer’s Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Saturday the team for the Pan-American Games was announced, and among the 12 players who will suit up for Triano are three who will play college basketball next season.

Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks and Kentucky’s Jamal Murray all made the cut, as did current NBA players Anthony Bennett (Minnesota), Andrew Nicholson (Orland0) and Sim Bhullar (Sacramento).

MORE: The United States Pan-Am roster | Delgado, Morillo named to Dominican Pan-Am squad

There are other recent ties to college basketball on the roster, with guards Junior Cadougan (played at Marquette), Brady Heslip (played at Baylor) and Daniel Mullings (played at New Mexico State), and forward Melvin Ejim (played at Iowa State) being selected. Aaron Dornekamp and Carl English complete Canada’s roster for the Games, with competition in men’s basketball beginning July 21.

All three current college players on the roster have prior international experience, with Brooks being a member of Canada’s U19 team that played at the FIBA U19 World Championships in Crete earlier this summer. Brooks was one of the top scorers in Crete, averaging 18.8 points (second in the event), 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

Wiltjer represented Canada at the World University Games two years ago, and Murray played for Canada’s U17 team in last summer’s FIBA U17 World Championships.

Former Missouri forward Johnathan Williams III transfers to Gonzaga

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Gonzaga, which has two rising seniors in its front court in Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer, picked up a major addition to its rotation Saturday evening.

Johnathan Williams, who played two seasons at Missouri before deciding to transfer, will join Mark Few’s program. Williams announced the decision via social media, and the Bulldogs beat out Georgetown and SMU for the 6-foot-9 forward’s commitment. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2015-16 season.

“Thanks for all of the schools that recruited me & after careful consideration, I chosen to further my career at Gonzaga University,” Williams posted. “I am proud to say I’m a ZAG! God take the wheel, you’re in control!”

In 2014-15 Williams was one of the lone bright spots for a Missouri team that struggled mightily, as he accounted for 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in 29.4 minutes of action per game. Recently Gonzaga’s had success with front court players who’ve had to sit out a season, be it Wiltjer following his transfer from Kentucky or Kelly Olynyk’s decision to take a redshirt year in 2011-12.

Given the fact that Wiltjer and Karnowski will be moving on after the 2015-16 season, Williams will be an important piece when he becomes eligible to play in 2016-17. Also having eligibility remaining for that season are Domantas Sabonis and 7-footer Ryan Edwards. Gonzaga also has a front court commitment in the Class of 2016 in 6-foot-10 big man Zach Collins.

Kyle Wiltjer to return to Gonzaga for his senior season

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Kyle Wiltjer is returning to Gonzaga for his senior season, sources confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Wiltjer averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 boards while shooting 46.6 percent from three for the Zags in 2014-15, putting together all-american caliber credentials while leading the Zags to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1999. It was his first season playing in Spokane after transferring out of Kentucky.

With Wiltjer back in the fold, the Zags will be a preseason top 25 team, perhaps ranked as high as the top 15. Wiltjer will likely be a preseason all-american entering the 2015-16 season, and his presence, along with the return of both Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis, will give head coach Mark Few one of the best front lines in the country.

Returning to school is probably the right move for Wiljter. He has the offensive skill set to one day play in the NBA, but he still has quite a bit of work to do to improve is body and his athleticism if he’s going to be able to hold his own on the defensive end of the floor.

The news was first reported by Jim Meehan of the Spokesman Review.

College basketball’s eight most important NBA Draft decisions

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source:
Yogi Ferrell (AP Photo)

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: No one has more on the line with a little more than a week left before the NBA Draft’s early entry deadline than the Hoosiers, who will be waiting until April 25th to find out whether or not their star point guard will be back on the roster in 2015-16. Ferrell averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists last year, but more importantly, he was the point guard that made Indiana’s spread-out offensive attack so dangerous. You can’t guard Ferrell one-on-one, but you can’t help off of James Blackmon, or Robert Johnson, or any of Indiana’s myriad of shooters.

With Thomas Bryant set to join the program next season as well, the Hoosiers have already addressed their issue of rebounding, shotblocking and toughness in the paint. Now they just need their point guard back, because with him, they’re a preseason top 15 team. Without him? The NIT is possible.

READ MORE: Who has declared for the draft, and who is returning to school?

Ty Wallace, Cal: The Golden Bears struggled in Cuonzo Martin’s first season as head coach, but much of that was due to a lack of depth and some injuries. With Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews back, Kameron Rooks healthy, Stephen Domingo eligible and top five recruit Ivan Raab joining the program, Cal as the pieces to be a threat in the Pac-12. But, like Indiana, they need their point guard, Wallace, back. He averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 boards and 4.0 assists last season.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The Sooners are already losing Tashawn Thomas to graduation, and with Frank Booker transferring out of the program, Lon Kruger’s back court depth will already be tested next season. Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, is good enough keep Oklahoma in and around the top 15, considering Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard all return. Without him, and the Sooners will have to scrap to ensure a tournament berth.

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Mark Few is already losing his starting back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to graduation, and with all due respect to Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, that’s a loss that is going to be tough to overcome. Getting Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis back ensures the Zags will have a formidable front line, but Wiltjer’s ability to spread the floor due to his scoring prowess creates all kinds of space on the interior. He’ll be a preseason all-american if he returns.

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s Preseason Top 25

source: Getty Images
Kris Dunn (Getty Images)

Here’s the kicker for Gonzaga fans: It seems going pro is something Wiltjer is actually toying with, but at this point, he’s not an NBA player. But if he gets his degree and decides he wants to start making money playing basketball, can anyone really look down on him for it?

Kris Dunn, Providence: If Kris Dunn returns to school, we’re looking at a first-team all-american that is good enough to carry the Friars back to the NCAA tournament. Without Dunn, who is a late-first round pick, the Friars will likely be back in rebuilding mode. There’s a real chance he comes back, however. Improve his jumper, cut down on those turnovers, and he’s a lottery pick, potentially top ten.

Caris LeVert, Michigan: I’ll just get this out of the way now: I think it would be foolish for LeVert to return to school. He’s broken the same foot twice in the last year, and feet are not a part of the body that professional athletes want to mess with. Playing another year in college is a serious risk, especially if he’s not completely healthy by the start of the year. That said, NBA team are aware of this as well, which means he may have already fallen out of the first round. If he comes back and he’s healthy, we’re looking at an all-american that can climb right back up those draft boards.

With LeVert, Michigan should be really good as well. We all saw how well Beilein had his kids playing by the end of last season, and that was without LeVert or starting point guard Derrick Walton. With LeVert, they’re probably top 25-good. Without him, we’re likely looking at a bubble team.

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: When Hammons is engaged, he’s an all-Big Ten caliber player. This past season, he was engaged, and it helped get Purdue to the NCAA tournament. He’s a defensive menace with a developing post game that would give Purdue a pair of seven-footers on their front line. The Boilermakers still could make an NCAA tournament without him, but if he’s back, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl is a borderline lottery pick, and it would seem sensible for him to head off to the NBA. But there actually seems to be some doubt in whether or not he is going to go, and if he does decide to come back, the Utes will have at their disposal one of the best big men in the Pac-12. With Poeltl, they should make a second-straight NCAA tournament despite the fact they lose Delon Wright. Without him, they’re probably going to end up being a bubble team.