N. Arizona-Gonzaga Preview
Gonzaga is back on familiar ground and ready to play games that are going to count.
Thanks to a snafu during their trip to Japan, the 10th-ranked Bulldogs' home opener Wednesday against Northern Arizona is now their season opener.
Gonzaga and Pittsburgh managed to get through a half before unsafe playing conditions forced the postponement of Friday's Armed Forces Classic in Okinawa, held in a Marine Corps recreation center without air conditioning. Players for both teams had trouble maintaining their footing due to a buildup of moisture caused by high humidity and rising temperatures.
The Bulldogs trailed 37-35 at halftime.
''It was about who didn't fall down, that's what the game was coming down to," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Whoever didn't fall was probably going to make a play."
The Bulldogs should be more comfortable at the McCarthey Center, where they've won 16 straight and 25 of 26 against non-conference opponents. An 85-74 loss to Illinois in December 2012 stands as the lone blemish over that stretch.
An 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance also is fully expected. Though Gonzaga lost all three starting guards in Kevin Pangos, Byron Wesley and Gary Bell Jr., big men Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis again team with 6-foot-10 sharp-shooter Kyle Wiltjer for one of the nation's most imposing frontcourts.
The Kentucky transfer Wiltjer shot 46.6 percent from 3-point range while leading the Zags in scoring (16.8 ppg) during his first season in Spokane. The 6-foot-11 Sabonis had a 66.8 percent field goal percentage while averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 rebounds as a freshman reserve to help the Bulldogs go 35-3 and reach the NCAA Tournament regional finals, losing to eventual national champion Duke.
Wiltjer scored 15 points and went 3 of 6 from 3 against Pittsburgh, while Sabonis was 4 of 4 from the field and finished with eight points and five rebounds.
While the Bulldogs have yet to play an official game, Northern Arizona has lost twice during a challenging season-opening three-game trip. The Lumberjacks dropped an 82-70 decision to Washington State on Friday and suffered a 101-81 defeat to Mountain West preseason co-favorite Boise State on Monday.
The Lumberjacks lost three starters from a 2014-15 squad that won a school-record 23 games and made the CollegeInsider.com Tournament finals, but do have All-Big Sky first team selection Kris Yanku back at point guard. Guard Jaleni Neely, academically ineligible for all but 12 games last season, also returns and had a career-high 20 points against Boise State.
Northern Arizona went 11 of 24 on 3-point attempts Monday but allowed the Broncos to make 8 of 14 tries during a 54-point second half.
"It's a tough road stretch we're on right now," coach Jack Murphy told the school's official athletics website. "Defensively we need to clear some things up. I'm proud of how we're getting better."
Northern Arizona, picked fourth in the Big Sky preseason poll, faces Gonzaga for the first time since an 84-65 home win on Feb. 15, 1979, when both were Big Sky members. The Bulldogs hold an 11-5 series edge and have won all eight matchups in Spokane.
Gonzaga resided in the Big Sky from 1970-79 before leaving for the West Coast Conference.