Texas A&M-Gonzaga Preview
Gonzaga's first two blowouts came against questionable competition. The third followed nearly as easily against a Pac-12 opponent. If it's to run away with a fourth, it'll have to come over a ranked foe, against which it's struggled enough to get a win of any kind in recent seasons.
The 10th-ranked Bulldogs go up against Texas A&M Thursday in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and the 25th-ranked Aggies are out to match the 2013-14 club for their best start in the last eight seasons.
Gonzaga (3-0) opened the tournament with Wednesday's 80-64 win over Washington, building a 17-point halftime lead and shooting 50.0 percent to the Huskies' 25.7. The teams combined for 60 fouls and 74 free throws, and the Bulldogs took advantage of Washington's early foul trouble to mount a 24-point lead.
"It wasn't pretty but I like how tough we played," coach Mark Few said. "I liked our approach and I thought we played very, very well on the defensive end - especially on their first shot."
It was a continuation of games against Northern Arizona and Mount St. Mary's, and they've now outscored the three opponents by 33.4 points while allowing them to shoot 29.9 percent with a 49.7-33.7 rebounding advantage. Gonzaga's shot 54.4 percent and didn't really bother with the perimeter game against Washington, going 2 for 8.
Kyle Wiltjer had 24 points and 11 rebounds and Domantas Sabonis added 17 and nine off the bench. While the senior Wiltjer has picked up where he left off in his first season with Gonzaga and is averaging 19.7 points with 9.0 rebounds as he waits for his 3-point shot to come back around, the sophomore Sabonis has more than doubled his scoring average to 19.3 with 10.0 rebounds.
A little more structure could free up that outside game for Wiltjer, who's 1 for 10 from 3 this season. The whistle-heavy style didn't help Wednesday.
"Like coach was saying in the huddle ... when a game gets like that we don't have to run a play every time," Wiltjer said. "Sometimes we weren't running the plays that we were practice. Sometimes you just have to punch a gap."
Gonzaga would certainly like to see improvement on its 5-17 record against the Top 25 dating to February 2009, but Texas A&M would settle for just a day of success against the top 10. The Aggies' last 26 shots in such matchups have ended in disappointment by an average of 12.4 points.
Like Gonzaga, A&M (5-0) went all the way to the Bahamas to first face an in-state foe, beating Texas 84-73 on Wednesday in the opening round and can now match its start from two seasons ago as its top since a 25-win 2007-08.
Danuel House had 19 points, Anthony Collins scored 15, and the Aggies also earned a double-digit win in their first real test after Texas threatened throughout the second half, pulling within two and three points on a handful of occasions.
"It showed us poise," House said. "Coach told us they would have a run, and that we needed to stick together. ... We look forward to being tested again."
House is averaging 15.0 points after leading the team at 14.8 last season, and Collins showed signs of supplying backcourt support. The graduate transfer from South Florida played a season-high 34 minutes after averaging 24 in his first four, going 3 of 4 from the field and 7 of 7 from the foul line.
Guard play happens to be the major question mark facing Gonzaga this season. The relatively inexperienced starting trio of Eric McClellan, Josh Perkins and Kyle Dranginis is averaging 21.7 of the team's 90.7.