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Game Preview: Gonzaga v. Northern Arizona

The Zags welcome the Lumberjacks back to Spokane.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Arizona at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have a short turnaround after their win over Texas Tech on Saturday in Phoenix. They will keep the Arizona theme going on Monday, though this time at home in Spokane, against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks whom they beat last season (88-58 win) and back in 2015-16 (91-52 win). Dominick Harris had one of his best games of the season in this matchup last season, and it’s a bummer that he has to sit this one out as he continues his recovery from his pre-season foot injury.

Meet the Opponent

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, 4-7, KenPom #317

The Lumberjacks only have two winning seasons over their last 10 campaigns, and by KenPom ranking are one of the lowest rated teams on Gonzaga’s schedule this season (currently only above Alcorn State and Central Michigan). Northern Arizona is led by junior guard Jalen Cone who is averaging 17.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and 3.2 apg this season but missed last year’s tilt in Spokane. Behind Cone, Northern Arizona’s key personnel are junior forward Nik Mains who only had 3 points and 5 rebounds in last year’s game against the Zags, along with freshman forward Carson Towt who is averaging 9 ppg and 9.5 rpg.

What to watch out for

Can the Lumberjacks hold the Bulldogs below the century mark?

Northern Arizona hasn’t given up 100 points yet this season, but they also have the 325th ranked defensive efficiency per KenPom. Worse for the Lumberjacks, they turn the ball over at a pretty high rate so the Zags should be in a good position to feast in transition if they can force a high number of live ball turnovers. That should yield a good number of easy buckets and scoring runs that allows Gonzaga to land an early knockout punch and give the bench more time on the floor, particularly since there is only a day in between games sandwiched by travel from Phoenix back to campus.

Increased minutes for Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman

Andrew Nembhard played the entire game against Texas Tech on Saturday, so it would make sense in this game for him to get much more rest on Monday night and allow Sallis and Hickman to get more run. Sallis only played 6 minutes against the Red Raiders, while Hickman played for 17 which is a good number. The freshman duo have improved week by week, so I’d like to see them play more than they have been in the big games this year to serve their developmental progress.

Bench Opportunities

Anton Watson, Sallis, and Hickman comprise the 8-man rotation that Mark Few has gone to for this season which is not unexpected. However, their teammates beyond that 8-man rotation haven’t had the opportunity to play too much which also is not terribly unexpected. For example, Ben Gregg has only played once in the last six games, and that was two minutes against Merrimack. If the Zags can run out to a quick lead (as they should), Few should be able to get the deeper parts of the bench some extended play so they don’t go too long without game action. It’s important to keep everyone engaged and active throughout the season, and this game represents a good opportunity to get minutes for those guys.

Game information