Struggling Gonzaga visits Washington State on Wednesday
Gonzaga is 4-3, the worst start in coach Mark Few's 12 seasons. On Wednesday night, the Zags will play at Washington State, which has opened 5-1.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Gonzaga @ WSU, 8 p.m., FSN
The Gonzaga-Washington State basketball matchup has recently been one in which it's easy to tell the aspirant from the kingpin. While the Zags have been on a long run of NCAA-tournament appearances, the Cougars have mostly been in a position of pursuit for a quality victory.
This year looks like the exception. Gonzaga looks to need Wednesday night's game in Pullman every bit as much as the Cougars. It's the first time in eight years WSU has faced an unranked Gonzaga team.
The Zags have opened 4-3, the worst start in Mark Few's 12 seasons as coach. The losses are to teams with a combined 22-2 record — San Diego State, Kansas State and Illinois — so it's not exactly a crisis in Spokane. Still, Gonzaga has usually pocketed a couple of quality wins by now.
"It's just been, kind of a little bit of everything," said GU assistant Ray Giacoletti, insisting that the Zags haven't lost confidence. "A little bit defensively, a little bit offensively. I don't think you can point to any one thing."
Three-point defense, though, has dogged Gonzaga in its three losses. The Zags have allowed 29 threes in 62 attempts in the three games (.468).
Illinois hit 12 of 23 when, Giacoletti said, the Zags didn't properly defend ball screens as the Illini big guys popped out to make shots.
That will be a key element against the Cougars and the Pac-10's premier distance shooter, Klay Thompson. He was only 1 of 7 on threes in WSU's first loss of the season Friday night to Kansas State, dropping him to .324 for six games. Teammate Faisal Aden is at .395.
WSU coach Ken Bone said Tuesday that guard Reggie Moore (wrist) and center DeAngelo Casto (foot) recovered well from appearances in the K-State loss and are nearer full health.
Gonzaga's progress has been stunted somewhat by an Achilles injury to standout sophomore forward Elias Harris. He has had some acupuncture treatments and reported feeling better, but has missed considerable practice time, plus one game.
If you include the Cougars, who look capable of a first-division finish in the Pac-10, the Zags have seven more stout nonleague opponents in which to build a résumé for a possible 13th straight NCAA-tournament appearance.
Gonzaga plays at Notre Dame on Saturday, and still has Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State this month, with a Jan. 2 game at Wake Forest and a Feb. 5 game with Memphis. The Zags either need to stockpile some wins, or depend on winning the WCC tournament.
Meanwhile, the Cougars (5-1) would also benefit from taking out Gonzaga. They did it in 2006 and 2007, when coach Tony Bennett's teams broke through to the NCAA tournament.
"It would be a huge win for us," Bone said. "They've played a schedule so tough that they happen to have a couple of losses in there."
Bone and Few go back about two decades, as their careers as college coaches began about the same time, Few's at Gonzaga and Bone's at Seattle Pacific.
Referring to Few and predecessor Dan Monson, Bone said, "Nothing got by them. When it came to recruiting, they knew about everybody. At Seattle Pacific, we tried to find guys who might be those hidden gems, but Gonzaga was always in on them because of Mark and Dan. They were extremely detail-oriented in all aspects."
In a series that dates to 1907, the Cougars lead, 97-47.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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