St. Thomas Aquinas-Gonzaga Preview
Even though they’re considered one of more talented groups Gonzaga has had, coach Mark Few is most impressed with how his squad is performing on defense.
The No. 13 Bulldogs look to continue their stingy play and win their 29th consecutive at home Saturday night against Division-II St. Thomas Aquinas in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Gonzaga (3-0) owns the nation’s second-longest home win streak behind Duke’s 35-game run. The Bulldogs are 138-8 at McCarthey Athletic Center since it opened in 2004.
Few has to be pleased with a team that ranks in the top 20 in defensive field-goal percentage at 30.9 while allowing a 26.5 mark from 3-point range and 52.0 points per game.
Gonzaga is coming off its best performance yet, limiting Saint Joseph’s to 10 points on 3-of-28 shooting in the first half Wednesday on the way to a 94-42 home win.
The Bulldogs have been one of the West Coast Conference’s top defensive teams under Few and led the league in both defensive field-goal percentage (39.8) and 3-point percentage (31.8) in 2013-14.
"It had to be one of the best, if not the best, defensive halves we’ve ever played," said Few, whose .802 winning percentage is the best among active coaches.
Transfers Bryon Wesley (California) and Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) and freshman Domantas Sabonis are having an impact on a rotation that already includes returning starters Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski.
Gonzaga hasn’t skipped a beat on offense after leading the WCC in field-goal percentage (49.5), 3-point shooting (39.7) and ranking second in scoring (76.7) last season. Wesley, Wiltjer, Sabonis, Pangos and Bell are each averaging at least 9.3 points to help the Bulldogs put up 90.0 per game on 52.4 percent shooting – 42.9 from long range.
They also rank among NCAA leaders with 21.7 assists per game and a 1.97 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"We’ve been continuing to share the ball on the offensive end and find the guy who has the right matchup or has the best shot and that’s a good recipe," Few said.
Bell led five double-digit scorers with a season-high 18 to help the Bulldogs hand the Hawks the worst defeat in school history. The senior guard, averaging 11.7 points, hit 5 of 7 from beyond the arc and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career.
"I wish I could keep coaching him for the rest of my life," Few said. "He’s an absolute joy. He’s the most consistent guy as far as effort and mood and everything. He approaches basketball and life and school with a smile on his face."
The Spartans, who have never faced Gonzaga, have allowed opponents to shoot 54.0 percent overall and 15 of 31 from 3-point range. They lost 92-80 to St. Michael’s last Saturday and fell 75-68 to Pace on Sunday in their season-opening tournament.
Guard Matthew Lee has been a threat offensively, finishing with a team-high 24 points while sinking four 3-pointers in the opener before scoring 11 and pulling down seven rebounds versus Pace.
Alushula Odongo, who started all 29 games in 2013-14, could return after missing the first two this season due to a lower-body injury. Fellow forward Jules de Courtenay, however, won’t make his debut as he recovers from a undisclosed ailment.