Basketball is often referred to as a game of runs.
It’s a theory the second-ranked Gonzaga men’s basketball team experienced firsthand in their exhibition matchups with No. 11 Tennessee on Oct. 28 and Warner Pacific on Wednesday.
Against Tennessee, the Zags had a four-point lead at the intermission before multiple scoring runs led to them being outscored by 23 points in the second half of a 99-80 loss.
The occasional lapses in focus didn’t go away when Gonzaga played Warner Pacific, as the Knights had 13-0 and 10-0 offensive spurts. While the Zags still came out on top 101-70, head coach Mark Few said his team can’t have the same rough stretches of play and expect to defeat North Florida in Monday’s regular-season opener at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“North Florida is a veteran team with a bunch of their scorers back and I think they wanted to play this game,” Few said. “These guaranteed games, it’s funny, the ones that really volunteer or ask you to play usually feel pretty good about themselves, so we’re bracing to play a really good team on opening night.”
Picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Sun preseason coaches’ poll, North Florida brought back its top four scorers from a group that went 11-20 overall and 7-9 against conference opponents last season.
Among the most notable returners is Jose Placer, who averaged a team-high 14.7 points and 2.8 assists per game in 2021-22. Placer, along with Carter Hendricksen, were the two Ospreys named to the All-ASUN Preseason Team.
Placer could potentially match up with guard Nolan Hickman, the Zags’ starting point guard in both exhibition games. It’ll be interesting to see how Hickman handles himself when facing a more experienced and polished shot creator.
An even more intriguing matchup might be Hendricksen vs. Gonzaga wing Julian Strawther. Both players are 6-foot-7 versatile scorers that can play the power forward in a small-ball lineup.
Strawther was a slightly more efficient 3-point shooter last season as he shot 36.5% from beyond the arc, while Hendricksen shot 30.5%.
Following the Zags’ win against Warner Pacific, Strawther emphasized that he isn’t taking North Florida lightly.
“This North Florida team is no pushover at all,” Strawther said. “They’re a really good team, they’re going to get out in transition, shoot a lot of threes and they’re going to challenge us.”
The Ospreys averaged 9.5 made 3-pointers per game last season, the 17th-best mark in the nation.
North Florida’s most efficient shooter is likely Jarius Hicklen, who is coming off a year in which he shot 40.1% from beyond the arc. The only Zag to post a higher 3-point percentage in 2021-22 was Rasir Bolton at 46%.
Since there’s a good chance Hicklen and Bolton get matched up against each other, Monday’s contest could quickly become a high-scoring shootout between the two guards.
Aside from making their season debut, the Zags will also be wearing customized turquoise uniforms created by Nike to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. It’s the fourth time Gonzaga and Nike have teamed up for this cause and the turquoise color is seen as symbolic of friendship and fellowship in Native American cultures.
Tipoff for the game is 6 p.m. and fans can watch on ROOT SPORTS Plus.
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