South Alabama-Gonzaga Preview
While Gonzaga is led by two of the nation's top perimeter shooters, it's also benefited from some solid play in the paint.
The No. 20 Bulldogs could find further success inside while trying for a sixth straight victory Saturday night against South Alabama in Seattle.
Paced by guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. shooting a combined 52.7 percent from field and 52.0 from 3-point range, Gonzaga's 53.8 field-goal percentage ranks among the top five in the country and its 46.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc is second.
Though the Bulldogs (9-1) heavily rely on their backcourt duo since star big men Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris have moved on, coach Mark Few also understands his team must maintain a presence in the paint if it is to remain among the nation's elite teams.
Behind 6-foot-9 Sam Dower and 7-1 Przemek Karnowski, the Bulldogs average 41.4 points in the paint while outscoring their opponents by an average margin of 15.0 in that category.
Dower totaled 33 points against Coppin State and New Mexico State earlier this month and Karnowski scored a season-high 19 and grabbed 13 boards in 32 minutes as the Bulldogs held a 34-16 advantage in the paint during Tuesday's 80-76 victory at West Virginia.
"The guys were finding me," said Karnowski, who is putting up 9.9 points and pulling down 8.1 boards per game despite averaging 23.6 minutes while dealing with foul trouble. "I had great passes, I just had to finish them."
Karnowski's performance inside helped the Bulldogs overcome a 38.2 percent first-half shooting effort that left them trailing by four at the break. They shot 51.9 percent in the final 20 minutes as Pangos went 4 of 7 and hit three 3-pointers to score 11 of his 18 points.
Though Gonzaga shot a season-low 44.3 percent, its 12-9 advantage in second-chance points and 43-36 edge on the glass helped lead to a fifth straight victory since falling 84-79 to Dayton at the Maui Invitational on Nov. 25.
"We knew coming in that we had a size advantage," Few said.
The Bulldogs might be in good shape to fare well inside again in their first meeting with South Alabama (5-4) since they improved to 2-0 in the series with an 80-63 victory Dec. 5, 1998.
Though the Jaguars rank among the national leaders with 41.6 rebounds per contest, they have not held the scoring advantage in the paint against any of the seven Division I schools they've faced this season. They were outscored 104-34 in the lane during losses to Texas, Middle Tennessee and Rice.
Senior Augustine Rubit averages team highs of 16.7 points and 10.0 rebounds for South Alabama, which looks to bounce back from a 96-93 triple-overtime loss at Rice last Saturday.
Shooting 35.8 percent while going 0-3 away from home this season, the Jaguars have dropped six consecutive non-conference road games since a 76-71 win at No. 25 Florida State on Nov. 9, 2012.
Gonzaga is 6-4 all-time and trying for a third straight victory in its annual Battle In Seattle contest.