It is common knowledge that there is not an awful lot of love between Arizona Wildcat's
fans and Rick Barnes of Texas. The hard feelings apparently were created when Jerryd Bayless withdrew his commitment to Arizona last summer in order to "rethink" his decision to play basketball at Arizona. It became known
that he was "thinking" about going to Texas. Bayless, one of the top recruits in the country (anywhere from 5-10) eventually came to his senses and signed a Letter of Intent with Arizona this month. However, Arizona will be in no hurry to forget this when Rick Barnes and the Longhorns visit Phoenix this Saturday to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
It is also fairly well known that many of the fans at Arizona, for some reason, believe that Mark Few will replace Lute Olson when he retires (but Zag fans know better because Mark Few is a fly fisherman who loves the Pacific Northwest). Anyway, we can count on near-full support from Arizona fans in Phoenix...
We think there are three other keys to the game.
First: How will the 7 Freshmen playing for Texas match up against 6 returning lettermen for
Gonzaga. Texas has lost a lot. The loss of PJ Tucker (16.1 ppg, 9 rpg), LaMarcus Aldridge (15 ppg, 9.2 rpg), Daniel Gibson (13. ppg), Kenton Paulino (9.6 ppg) and Brad Buckman (9.5 ppg & 7 rpg) will certainly hurt Texas in the early going this year. They have only one returning player, A.J. Abrams (6.4 ppg), but he's a dandy. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has lost Adam Morrison (28 ppg), JP Batista (19.3 ppg and 9 rpg) and defensive stopper Errol Knight. Gonzaga returns 6 players who saw plenty of action last year.
Second: How well Gonzaga defends Kevin Durant. Durant is described as one of the best freshmen in America, and many believe that if he had entered the draft he would have certainly been a lottery pick. Durant is averaging 22.2 ppg so far this year. Likewise, how well Texas defends Josh Heytvelt will also be a big factor. Josh is averaging 17.2 ppg, and we might say that so far this year, Josh has been the biggest surprise
in College Basketball.
Third: The next highest scorer for Texas is A.J Abrams at 19.2 ppg and for Gonzaga Derek Raivio at 18.9 ppg. These two sharpshooters will also be a key factor in the game. The one who strokes the three ball the best could very well determine the outcome of the game. Also, who runs their team the best from the point is pivotal, and that battle might be between Jeremy Pargo and D.J. Augustin.
The Zags must contain Kevin Durant. This is a difficult challenge for the Zags. Each time so far this year that Gonzaga has had to match up with an All-American caliber player they have done a remarkable job. Gonzaga held Rodney Stuckey (Eastern Washington) to 18 points, Morris Almond (Rice) to 13, and Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) to 9. Give credit to Mark Few and the Bulldog staff for developing outstanding defensive schemes for each game so far, and to the Zags for carrying those plans out.
We think the Zags must create a lot of turnovers and get points off those turnovers. The Longhorns have 7 incoming freshmen playing Saturday and GU needs to take advantage of their inexperience.
The Zags need to come out with fire in their eyes and play with intensity from the opening whistle to the last. As Mark Few said early in the year, this Zag team can not go out and fall behind and depend on coming back at the end of the game the way last year's team could. That statement has held up so far this year. GU showed vulnerability to the 3-point shot against Butler,
and GU must defend the 3 better against Texas. Texas sophomore guard A.J. Abrams can light it up from the outside. GU needs to get out and defend the 3.
How Gonzaga Wins This One:
We believe Gonzaga's experience will be the deciding factor along with a lot of energy put out in America West Arena by Arizona's fans for the Zags. After the quiet atmosphere in Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga will welcome the loud
support in Phoenix. Also, because of their experience, Gonzaga will run better offensive and defensive sets. In the preseason, we are learning more each week, how valuable experience is. The Zags, in the long run, will contain Durant better then Texas is able to defend Josh Heytvelt. With Josh scoring on the inside and Derek on the outside, the Zags will just be too much for the Longhorns. In the end it will be Gonzaga's defense that finds itself again, and the Gladiators (Pendergraft and Abdullahi Kuso) are coming to make their presence felt. Gonzaga fans know how special Durant is, but once again the national media finds itself in awe of Matt Bouldin.
We also believe that Gonzaga must begin to find more consistency from the 3 guard (or small forward) position. GU has been pretty inconsistent at that position so far this year. Traditionally, Gonzaga has scored a lot of points
at this position. Anther way of saying it, is that Gonzaga has had good scorers on the wings. Derek Raivio has been off to a great start this year at the 1 and 2 guard, but the Zags have been up and down at the 3. Although PMAC has been starting at this position, Matt Bouldin, a true freshman, is seeing more and more playing time and has been a huge surprise, along with Heytvelt. Can the Texas game be a break-out game for Matt? We think he's just waiting to explode at the offensive end.
The Horns shoot about 40% from beyond the arc, with Durant, Abrams and highly capable and regarded D.J. Augustin, another superb freshman who appears to be picking up right where Gibson left off at the point.
Gonzaga can score all the points in the world but if the 3-point arc is not well defended, Texas' chances of winning this game are greatly enhanced.
Copyright 2006 GUnation.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.