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Gonzaga vs. Eastern Oregon game preview

Closing out the non-conference schedule.

NCAA Basketball: Montana at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the Eastern Oregon Mountaineers to close out the non-conference slate (sort of). After tomorrow’s game, the Zags will embark on a journey of WCC games, before closing out the regular season against Chicago State on March 1.

Eastern Oregon, playing out of the NAIA Cascade Conference, are 7-4 on the season.

Meet the opponent

The Mountaineers are led by starting guard Phillip Malatare, who averages 17.2 points per game. He is joined by three-point threats Emmit Taylor III, a 6’4 senior who is shooting 40.8 percent from long range, and Adam Orr, a 6’4 fifth-year senior shooting 45 percent from afar.

What to watch out for

Does Gonzaga dominate this game like it should?

Honestly, this is the only real question that heads into a game of this caliber. It is one thing to play a Division I cupcake and it is another to face off against a D-II school. No offense to the student-athletes of Eastern Oregon, but they have no real business staying in the running of this game for longer than the opening minutes.

And yet, that said, the Zags last game before the holiday break was against a Montana team they theoretically should have crushed. Instead, they played a game for 40 minutes against a Grizzlies team that refused to go away, and the 10 point difference in the final score was not indicative of how close the game was at all.

That should not happen against Eastern Oregon. The holiday lull is real, however, and the Zags will need to demonstrate they are ready to hit the ground running against their conference opponents. Because if any of their WCC foes smell blood in the water, it could be a rocky go.

Let’s get Rasir Bolton going.

After averaging 13 points per game through the first seven contests this season, Rasir Bolton is stuck in an extended rut. In the last six games, Bolton has averaged just a shade over seven points and has only reached double-digits in scoring once. Part of that is because he is shooting just 5-for-16 from three-point range. Bolton is such an important part of the backcourt and the Zags will need his shooting for conference play.

The Hickman turnover watch.

At the beginning of the year, much of the fanbase was ready to bury Hickman under an avalanche of turnover-related criticism. While the truest haters know they are always going to hate, Hickman has rather quietly played the past three games (a total of 91 minutes) without a single turnover. We aren’t quite at Mike Hart levels, but for any guard playing that many minutes, that is stellar play. As the team’s primary point guard, the Zags need Hickman operating at a high-level. Taking care of the ball is always the first step for the floor general.