It's been a few years since Gonzaga fans have had no idea to what to expect out of their squad but if tonight was any indication, it could be a fun year in Spokane, Washington. Sure, there were some early struggles as Alberta was hitting shots to keep the game close but in the end, Gonzaga found it's stride and got solid games from a number of guys.
For most of last season, we heard and understood that big games could come from a number of different players but with the departure of guys like Daye, Heytvelt, Pargo etc...we didn't know how this team would react. It was obvious from the get go that this was a young team. Elias Harris struggled early on as he seemed to be rushing the action but the rest of the veteran starting lineup calmed him down. Matt Bouldin struck early and often, finishing with a 17 point evening on 6-9 shooting. He also added four boards, two steals, and a couple of assists. Steven Gray seemed to also push the action a bit, and although he shot poorly (2-10), it was good to see him getting to the hoop from time to time.
The story of the night, and probably for many, many nights was the freshmen. Everyone's shoe-in for impact fresman was Elias Harris but he actually struggled early. He only played 18 minutes but attempted seven shots, connecting on three. He finished with nine points and four rebounds for a solid debut. GJ Vilarino had a pretty pedestrian line, shooting 3-7 but added three rebounds and three assists.
The three freshmen that stole the show were Kelly Olynyk, Sam Dower, and Mangisto Arop. Kelly was a big surprise with his effectiveness. He was 3-4 from the field with four rebounds in only 12 minutes of action. He showed some great versatility and really was a pleasant surprise all night. Sam Dower was truly sensational. Like Kelly, much has been made about Sam redshirting this season but in 17 minutes he attempted 14 shots and hit seven of them. What was even more impressive was that he had five boards, all offensive and added a couple steals for good measure. Want to talk about rebounding? Mangisto Arop delighted onlookers with his 22 minutes of play. In that time, Manny shot 3-5 from the floor and was able to pull down a team high 12 rebounds! I know it's early, but it is hard not to get excited about this group of young players.
Other players of interest were Rob Sacre who was 4-5 from the floor in just 12 minutes of play. That's music to the ears of most Gonzaga fans who were concerned about Rob's offensive ability. It looks as though he was able to utilize his height advantage all night. The redshirt duo of Grant Gibbs and Andy Poling didn't see much action so it is tough to say much about them. Andy finished with seven points and Grant connected on one three-point attempt to get him on the board.
As far as team stats go, Gonzaga outrebounded Alberta 63-29 in this game. Everyone chipped in, especially on the offensive side as the Zags had 30 offensive rebounds. Twelve turnovers in this game was also a nice team stat. Whenever you have as many new faces as Gonzaga has, you expect there to be some rough ball handling but for the most part, it was all positive.
Like we said, it's hard not to get excited about the potential of this team but the real tests start on November 14th when Gonzaga takes on Mississippi Valley State to start the real season. For those that were at the game, we'd LOVE to hear some reactions from inside the Kennel.