Gonzaga will attempt to start 10-0 for the first time since joining the Division I level in 1958-59 when the eighth-ranked Bulldogs host Akron in a non-conference game Saturday.
Although Gonzaga is unbeaten and ranked in the top 10, coach Mark Few believes the Bulldogs are far from where he wants them to be. Akron (7-2) is a solid mid-major program that will provide a good barometer for how Gonzaga is progressing after Wednesday’s 98-71 win over visiting intrastate rival Washington.
A 27-point win should satisfy Few, but he stressed to his team the discrepancy in rebounds, with Washington grabbing 29 offensive boards and out-rebounding the Bulldogs 54-42 overall. That happened despite Gonzaga being known for its frontcourt presence with 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, 7-0 forward Zach Collins, 6-10 Killian Tillie and 6-9 Johnathan Williams.
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“What I like is I think there’s room for growth,” Few said. “I didn’t think the young bigs (freshmen Collins and Tillie) played like they normally have so there’s a teaching opportunity there. We didn’t quite rebound the way we expect to around here.”
Collins had only five rebounds in 17 minutes while Tillie mustered one in 15 minutes against the Huskies. Gonzaga outrebounds opponents by 4.6 per game but has been outrebounded by 20 in the last two games against Arizona and Washington.
Akron has three players who average at least 5.1 rebounds, led by 6-10 senior forward Kwen Cheatham Jr., who averages 7.0 per game. Isaiah Johnson, a 6-10 senior post player, averages 5.8.
Cheatham pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds in the Zips’ 87-63 win over visiting Coppin State on Wednesday. Akron won the rebounding battle 40-24 in that game while pulling down 11 on the offensive end.
Akron coach Keith Dambrot is the reigning Mid-American Conference coach of the year after guiding his alma mater to a 26-9 record. Before his team was defeated by Gonzaga 77-64 in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, he labeled his program “Gonzaga 2009” — believing it was the next mid-major to establish itself as a power.
The Zips, who lost 82-70 at No. 10 Creighton last week, have another opportunity to prove their worth on the road against a highly ranked opponent. Dambrot is trying to not put as much hype into it as he did going into the NCAA Tournament game against the Bulldogs eight seasons ago.
“We have to play the same every night regardless of who we play,” Dambrot said. “We have to play with the same emotion and care about every play every day. If we do that, we’ll get better as a team.
“If we get better as a team, we can make a turn at this thing.”
Adversely affecting Akron in its upset bid is the questionable status of junior point guard Noah Robotham, who has missed the last two games with an ankle sprain and is averaging 10.1 points.
Robotham played against Gonzaga junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss when they prepped in Las Vegas — Robotham with Bishop Gorman High School and Williams-Goss with Findlay Prep. Williams-Goss is coming off a 23-point performance against his former school, Washington, which increased his team-leading scoring average to 13.7.
Both Akron and Gonzaga are known for their ability to score. The Zips are averaging 79.8 points per game with Johnson averaging a team-best 15.2 points while shooting 70.3 percent from the field. The matchup between Johnson and Karnowski (averaging 12.2 points and a team-high 6.0 rebounds) will be one to watch.
Balance is the key for the Bulldogs, who averaging 85.9 points and feature six players averaging at least 9.7 points and four with more than five rebounds per contest.
“We’re built inside-out, but yet our perimeters can really shoot it,” Few said of his team’s versatility, most notably senior guard Josh Perkins, who shoots 52.5 percent from 3-point range but also is a playmaker evidenced by his five assists against Washington.
“Perkins did a great job. He managed the game, just took what they gave him and spread it around, fed the bigs, found the guards for toed-up threes and did a great job of taking care of the basketball (one turnover in 30 minutes against the Huskies).”