SE Louisiana-Gonzaga Preview

Domantas Sabonis wasn't Gonzaga's top freshman recruit, but he might end up being the team's most valuable first-year player.

Sabonis could be in for another strong performance when the ninth-ranked Bulldogs host Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday night in a tune-up for a potentially tough three-game stretch.

Sabonis, the son of former NBA center Arvydas Sabonis, has made an immediate impact by averaging 12.3 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds in 19.5 minutes off the bench for the 6-0 Bulldogs. For the third time in four games Friday, Sabonis didn't miss a field-goal attempt, going 6 of 6 and finishing with 14 points plus eight boards in a 73-66 victory over St. John's in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game.

''He's basically a starter,'' coach Mark Few said of Sabonis, who is 29 of 38 from the field. ''It's nice to have somebody like that. I mean, he's thought of as such and I trust him that much. That's why we play him at the end of the games.''

Sabonis wasn't as highly touted as fellow freshman and backup guard Josh Perkins, who is averaging 5.0 points and 3.4 assists and will miss an undetermined period after suffering a broken jaw in Wednesday's 88-76 win over Georgia.

Silas Melson is another talented freshman guard who had his redshirt lifted to replace Perkins, but he could see his minutes cut when Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan becomes eligible next month.

That leaves the 6-foot-10 Sabonis with the best chance to remain Gonzaga's most successful first-year player as he continues to grow and significantly contribute behind 7-1 Przemek Karnowski.

''I think we may be different than years past,'' Few said. ''We've got an upside. I think (Sabonis is) going to get nothing but better and our team will adapt as he does get better.''

Sabonis' strong start could continue in Gonzaga's first meeting with Southeastern Louisiana (2-5), which allowed 62 points in the paint while losing at Oklahoma State and then-No. 19 Oklahoma by a combined 53 points to open the season.

The Bulldogs are looking for their 21st consecutive home victory over an unranked nonconference opponent. Gonzaga's schedule gets tougher after this matchup with a visit to No. 3 Arizona on Saturday, then a date with Washington State at Spokane Arena and a road contest against UCLA next week.

''We've got some things we need to work on," said Few, whose squad ranks among the national leaders at 54.8 percent from the field and is holding opponents to 34.3.

The Bulldogs limited the Red Storm to 36.7 percent shooting after allowing a season-high 46.3 against Georgia.

"We played experienced teams in both Georgia and St. John's that are hungry to get back to the tournament, (and to) beat a ranked team," Few said. "We had to fight them.''

The Bulldogs might not have much difficulty with Southeastern Louisiana, which has won two of three but most recently defeated Langston University of the NAIA 92-80 on Sunday.

Murray State transfer Zay Jackson averages 15.7 points, 4.9 boards and 4.0 assists, but also 4.9 turnovers per contest. He committed 17 against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

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