As the Gonzaga Bulldogs gear up for their showdown with the Saint Mary’s Gaels tomorrow night, they will be looking for an edge as they head into hostile territory. While the Gaels will be prepared for the usual suspects, like Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos, Mark Few will shake things up and unleash the x-factor of guard Drew Barham.
Barham hasn’t been a huge factor yet this season, appearing in just 18 games and averaging 7.3 minutes per game. He’s started just one game all year, and the Memphis Tigers transfer didn’t even see the floor last month when Saint Mary’s was in Spokane. That will change, however, on this road trip as Few confirmed to the media that he will “definitely play.”
The junior guard has seen his playing time increase steadily in recent weeks at the ‘3’ position as Few shuffles his lineup to get favorable matchups. Few likes to go with Barham when he expects teams to sag off the ‘3’ in a zone or to double team the Zags’ bigs down in the post, because he’s able to hit from deep. In the last five games, Barham is a stellar 9-of-14 from three-point range and hitting 47.1 percent on the season.
Few expects Barham to hit Saint Mary’s where they’re vulnerable. The Gaels tend to play off some of the Zags’ other non-post options like David Stockton, Mike Hart and Guy Landri Edi because they don’t tend to hit long shots with regularity. That gives SMU an extra defender to bring down on the post and force the ball out of Harris and Olynyk’s hands down low or turn the ball over.
That’s where Barham’s sharp-shooting comes in. If he can continue his hot hand early, it will force the Gaels to keep a defender on the perimeter with him. That will free up the post and allow Gonzaga’s size to dominate in the paint. If Saint Mary’s continues to double the post, the Bulldogs can bury them with Barham’s perimeter shooting. Either way, the Zags will be pressing an advantage.
It will be a tough game, and the Bulldogs will have to be excellent from start to finish in order to escape with their perfect West Coast Conference record intact. But Mark Few has a gameplan, and that plan counts on Drew Barham stepping into the spotlight and coming up big.