The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been a staple of the NCAA Tournament each of the past 15 seasons, thanks in large part due to their dominance of the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga has won 11 of the last 15 WCC Championships, and that dominance will not be deterred this season. The Zags have the deepest team that they have had in their 15 year run, and the results will show as they win another league title. Whenever one player goes down, another steps up and gives Gonzaga a top-notch performance.
So far this season, they have dealt with injuries to their three leading scorers and have still been one of the best teams in the country. Can you name any other team in the country that could go without players like Sam Dower or Gary Bell Jr., or survive as their best player, Kevin Pangos, deals with a nagging turf toe injury? All of these players are dealing with injuries in which they will make full recovers this season; in fact, Pangos has never missed a game, just some playing time here and there, and Dower made his return to action Thursday night against St. Mary’s. Bell will still be sidelined a few more weeks with a fracture in his hand, but is on schedule to make a full recovery.
The control that Gonzaga has had over the WCC has been slipping away over the last five seasons. In the past five seasons, Gonzaga has fell victim to St. Mary’s in the WCC, but they won’t have to worry about that this year. This rivalry between these two has become the best mid-major rivalry in college basketball, but not even their rivalry is going to slow down the Bulldogs this season. On Thursday, the two teams met for the first time this season, and the Zags were victorious 73-51, and it wasn’t even that close.
In this particular game, it was Przemek Karnowski that stepped up for the Bulldogs. Against St. Mary’s, he had 15 points, nine rebounds, and seven blocks in only 25 minutes of play. He gave the Zags the star performance they needed while they wait for Dower to get back in the swing of things and until Bell is back in the lineup. And it’s not always Karnowski — every night it is a new unsung hero. David Stockton had his night against Santa Clara, Drew Barham had a career night against San Francisco, and Gerard Coleman had 21 points in a win over New Mexico State. Oh, and they just added Angel Nunez, a transfer from Louisville.
When healthy, the Zags go nine players deep. There isn’t a team in the country that goes nine deep with all nine players being this talented. If the Bulldogs can shake the injury-bug, they can handle any team in the country this season. The only problem for Gonzaga is that they still play in the WCC, so when the NCAA Tournament rolls around, they will have spent the previous two months playing against bad teams. Sometimes, being the dominant force in a weak conference can be a bad thing. Regardless, the Zags are going to keep playing the “next man up” and do what they do best, dominate the WCC.
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