Kansas St.-Gonzaga Preview
Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his players appear confident they can successfully move on from their first loss.
After falling to a team once coached by Bruce Weber, the No. 14 Bulldogs face another tough task against his current squad Saturday night versus Kansas State in Seattle.
Gonzaga (9-1) was off to the best start in its Division I history, but undefeated Illinois snapped the Bulldogs' 17-game home winning streak with an 85-74 victory last Saturday. After shooting 60.0 percent in the first half, the Bulldogs were held to 38.0 in the second and went without a basket for a stretch of six minutes.
Few, however, was not ready to panic.
"It's a long season, man," he said. "We've got to get better. The teams that get better from here to the end of the year are the ones that move on."
Few expected the first four games of December to be a good barometer for his team. Gonzaga beat future West Coast Conference member Pacific, 85-67 on Dec. 1, then needed a last-second layup by Kevin Pangos to win 71-69 at Washington State on Dec. 5.
The Bulldogs, however, allowed Illinois' Brandon Paul to score 35 points as the then-No. 13 Illini outscored the hosts 44-33 in the second half. Illinois' 50-percent shooting was by far the best this season against Gonzaga, which limited its previous nine opponents to 37.5. The Bulldogs also allowed their most points of the season - 26.2 more than they had been yielding on average.
"We got a lot to learn from this," Pangos told Gonzaga's official website. "And we'll get better from this.
"I don't think we defended as well as we could have. (Illinois is) a great shooting team ... but we have to defend better."
Though Kansas State (7-1) ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in field-goal shooting at 41.5 percent, Gonzaga likely can't afford another cold stretch against a team that is among the national leaders in scoring defense at 54.6 points per contest.
The Wildcats' only loss came Nov. 23 to an unbeaten Michigan squad currently ranked third.
Weber, who spent nine seasons at Illinois but was fired after going 17-15 in 2011-12, went 3-1 against the Bulldogs while with the Illini. Gonzaga meets Kansas State for the first time since an 81-44 loss to a fourth-ranked Wildcats team in Kansas City on Nov. 22, 2010.
Bulldogs four-year starter Elias Harris had one of the worst games of his career that day, scoring four points on 1-of-7 shooting. He's scored in double figures in every game this season and averages team highs of 16.6 points and 8.0 rebounds.
Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk has stepped up offensively, averaging 17.7 points in three games this month while shooting 75.0 percent.
Olynyk, grabbing 7.1 boards per game, and Harris will need to be at their best on the glass against a Wildcats team averaging 19.3 offensive rebounds to lead the nation. Kansas State pulled down 24 boards on the offensive end to overcome a season-low 35.7-percent shooting in last Saturday's 65-62 win at George Washington.
"I'd love to make some shots so we haven't so many offensive (rebounding) opportunities," Weber said. "Hopefully, that will come as it goes, but we got to continue to use that as a strength."
Guard Rodney McGruder, who had 10 points and nine rebounds versus Gonzaga in 2010, has averaged 17.7 points and 8.3 boards in the last three games.