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Recap: Newcomers shine as Gonzaga dominates Thompson Rivers

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Plenty of good, bad, and ugly things from Gonzaga's exhibition win over Thompson Rivers...

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

In their first and only true exhibition matchup of the 2014-15 season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs took down the Thompson Rivers Wolf Pack, 95-69.  As expected, it was the depth that proved to be the most powerful asset for the Zags as 9 guys played major minutes on Saturday night with Silas Melson sitting out due to injury and Ryan Edwards out as he has elected to redshirt.

The first main question everyone wanted an answer to was the starting lineup.  The rumors proved to be correct as Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley joined Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Przemek Karnowski in the Zags starting five.  It was a pretty sluggish start for this group as the Zags missed a lot of shots early on and actually only carried a five point lead at the midpoint of the first half.

The turning point was around the eight minute mark.  Gary Bell drained a pair of threes in the span of a minute and nearly had a third, as well.  That made it a 27-14 Bulldogs lead and Kyle Wiltjer quickly followed Bell up with a three of his own to extend the lead to 32-16.  Ball game.

As exhibition games tend to be, this was a pretty sloppy game as it relates to the team that we expect to see down the line.  The Zags shot the ball incredibly well - 57% from the field and 53% from deep.  Unfortunately, their free throw percentage, 53%, trailed their overall field goal %.  Przemek Karnowski missed all six of his free throw attempts, an area of his game that he has dedicated ample time to.  Angel Nunez, who played a very solid all around game, missed three free throws.

Turnovers were also an issue - Gonzaga was able to make shots to bail themselves out of a lot of situations but the offense is still gelling which is to be expected with just as many newcomers contributing as veterans.  Kyle Wiltjer, Bryon Wesley, and Kyle Dranginis gave the ball away three times apiece.

The main thing I wanted to see last night was Domantas Sabonis.  With Ryan Edwards electing to redshirt, Sabonis needs to be the real deal and I don't think anyone could tell me they weren't impressed by what he brought to this team and how comfortable he appears to be.  In 19 minutes, the freshman racked up 14 points and 5 boards.  He shot 6-8 from the field and 2-2 from the line.  He's got a definite edge to his game and plays like he has been going up against grown men since he was an early teenager.  If Przemek continues to struggle to stay on the court due to fouls or prove to be a massive liability from the line, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sabonis really start taking a chunk of his minutes.

The new members of the Gonzaga starting lineup, Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley were a mixed bag.  If you hadn't already, go ahead and stop the Olynyk and Wiltjer comparisons right now.  They are very, very different basketball players.  In Olynyk's final year at Gonzaga, he was at total peace in the interior and able to take on anyone in the paint.  Wiltjer is clearly going to be an outside threat as he looked pretty timid when he got the ball with his back to the basket.  He wound up shooting 4-13 from the floor but did pull down seven boards.  As the Gonzaga coaches said after the game, there is no reason to be worried about Wiltjer as his shooting will surely come around.

On the flip side, I thought Byron Wesley was very solid.  I was cautioned last night that we were all excited about Gerard Coleman (or, apparently just me as someone on Twitter mentioned) but I think those comparison are really poor based on skill set.  Coleman's biggest issue was that he wasn't able to score consistently away from the rim.  While it was just Thompson Rivers, I think Wesley showed that he is confident and able to score from just about anywhere.  More than any of the shooting stats, I was impressed with his motor.  He pulled down eight boards, played some solid defense and appeared to have a very strong grasp of Mark Few's system.

While Wesley and Sabonis were the stat sheet heroes on Saturday, I think the biggest point of optimism from this exhibition was Angel Nunez.  For a guy that seemed disinterested alongside Gerard Coleman last year, wasn't able to get consistent minutes, and struggled when he did play, he was the complete opposite last night.  We can rave all we want about Sabonis but I'm guessing Ryan Edwards does not get to redshirt unless Nunez makes a big jump and it appears that staff believes he has.  He finished with 7 points on 3-4 shooting, had three boards, and two assists.  He missed three free throws which we covered but, aside from that, he looked very comfortable in the mix this season. I continue to think that Nunez and Kyle Dranginis have a bit of an uphill battle to maintain solid minutes but, in Nunez's case, I think he proved he's going to be a consistent contributor this year.

The last (I promise) point from this game was Josh Perkins.  I thought Perkins was solid - he scored six points, had three assists and a couple turnovers.  The most revealing thing of the night was the fact that he played 22 minutes, the third most of any Zag.  He played alongside Pangos for quite a bit of that, especially midway through the first half when the Zags took control of the game.  He had a couple beautiful assists and a few that weren't converted upon by his teammates so he looks comfortable up to this point but it remains to be seen how he handles physical competition and pressure defense.  If he can prove to be up to the task, the freedom that gives Pangos to get open for his shot could be huge for Gonzaga.  Here's a high level look at the box score:

Player Minutes Points Boards Assists Fouls
Pangos
26 6 0 4 0
Wesley
25 15 8 0 0
Perkins
22 6 1 3 2
Bell
20 9 7 3 1
Wiltjer
20 13 7 3 2
Nunez
19 7 3 2 1
Sabonis
19 14 5 0 3
Dranginis
18 4 2 4 3
Karnowski
14 4 3 1 4
Griffin
8 7 0 0 1
Alberts
6 7 0 1 2
Triano
3 3 0 0 1

Next up is Sacramento State as the Bulldogs officially open their 2014-15 season.  Tip is at 6pm on Friday, November 14th.