The bad news is that Gonzaga has built a brand new Kennel, the McCartney Athletic Center in Spokane, and locale of Gonzaga University. It will be the first hostile environment test for Washington this year, who has yet to drop a game against some impressive foes.
The key statistic in this one is that Gonzaga has won six in a row against their cross state rival. The Huskies have not beaten the zags since 1997, when Bob Bender coached his team all the way to the Sweet 16.
Since that contest Washington's fortunes had plummeted while Gonzaga's went through the roof. The Huskies have since rebounded under Lorenzo Romar and opened the season with a win against Seattle Pacific and followed that up with a Great Alaska Shootout championship when they swept through Utah, Oklahoma, and Alabama on three consecutive nights.
Washington is the more athletic and quicker squad while Gonzaga has size. The Huskies schedule to date has been much tougher than the zags, who bring a 3-1 record into the game, but the wins are against the motley trio of Portland State, Montana and Idaho while the loss was an 89-72 rout against Illinois on Saturday that wasn't that close. The Illini led 18-4 five minutes into the game and 58-27 at halftime.
However, Washington was the adopted home team in Alaska, and this will be their first real trip into a difficult environment that will be very much rooting against them.
KEY MATCH UP: Mike Jensen and Hakeem Rollins vs. Ronny Turiaf
If there is a big advantage for the home team, this is it. Turiaf is an NBA caliber big man that can do it all. He has energy and tenaciousness in droves, and can score at will. His 26.3 points per game and 9.3 boards per contest averages speak volumes of his ability to own the paint. When he gets to the free throw line, Turiaf is near 90% from the stripe. Mike Jensen has been foul prone nearly his entire career, and it will be difficult for him to keep from picking up some cheap whistles without help.
Rollins has the long arms and body strength to help out inside on Turiaf, but he is only 6-7. Still, expect him to play a lot of minutes this evening. When Jamaal Williams is in, he'll also most likely use his thick frame to help put another body on Turiaf.
KEY MATCH UP: Bobby Jones and Tre Simmons vs. Sean Mallon and Adam Morrison
Besides Turiaf, Gonzaga has two other major weapons and both are over 6-8. Mallon has soft hands and a nice touch out to 17 feet. He also has been very strong on the offensive boards, an area that had been a weakness of past Washington teams. Morrison pours in 18 points per contest and has range out to the popcorn machine in the mezzanine. Bobby Jones will most likely draw this difficult defensive assignment when the Dawgs are in man-to-man. Washington will use Jamaal Williams to help out on Mallon inside, to provide another strong body to help box out. Still, Mallon is just over 6-9 while Williams is about 6-5 1/2.
Where the zags will likely struggle is getting out to defend Simmons' quick release from the perimeter and to defend Jones in the transition game. Bobby is often the catalyst in turning the Husky defense into offense in lightning-quick fashion, and is often the first one down the floor.
KEY MATCH UP: Will Conroy and Nate Robinson vs. Derek Raivio and Nathan Doudney
Washington's guards are perhaps the most difficult duo in the country on the defensive end. They will press the Gonzaga guards at every opportunity. Conroy and Robinson are cat-quick, and both have good noses for the ball. When you add Bobby Jones to that press package, it's lethal. Raivio, the sophomore point from Vancouver, Washington, will have his hands full tonight.
Doudney has yet to find his niche, averaging just five points per contest. He is much taller than the diminutive Robinson, but he'll quickly find out that Nate is not the easiest guy in the world to shoot over or drive around.
Conroy had an outstanding game against Alabama, pouring in 18 points, most coming at crucial times in the second half. He showed that he can be an offensive weapon when called upon. With Brandon Roy missing, he may get called on more often.
Robinson has been unstoppable through four games, leading the Huskies with a lofty 21.5 points per game average. He also leads the Dawgs in assists (4.8 per game), and in getting to the free throw line (24 times). When he gets to the charity stripe, Nate has been nearly automatic, only missing three times.
INTANGIBLES: Washington has proven that they can outrebound bigger teams and holds a 4.3 rebounds per game differential advantage through four games over their opponents. Gonzaga has grabbed 20 more boards than Washington thus far this year, and are always well coached. Mark Few's teams rarely come to the arena unprepared, and the wake up call they received by a scary-good Illinois team was received. The key to this game will be in who shoots better from the field between Adam Morrison and Tre Simmons. With Brandon Roy's offense missing, it will be up to Simmons to fill in the gaps.
If Simmons and Robinson can hit from three-point range at their current average (13 for 26 between the two), Washington will negate the size advantage and win this game.
Morrison is the guy that can hurt the Huskies the most with his deadeye shooting and slashing abilities. If Bobby Jones gets into foul trouble, it could be a long night for the visitors from Seattle.
The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Northwest at 5PM.
LIKELY STARTING LINE UPS
G Nate Robinson 5-8 junior (21.5 ppg, 4.8 apg)
G Will Conroy 6-2 senior (13.0 ppg, 4.3 apg)
G Tre Simmons 6-6 senior (14.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
F Bobby Jones 6-6 senior (12.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
F Mike Jensen 6-9 junior (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
G Derek Raivio 6-1 sophomore (9.8 ppg, 8.5 apg)
G Nathan Doudney 6-4 junior (5.0 ppg, 2.8 apg)
F Adam Morrison 6-8 sophomore (18.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
F Sean Mallon 6-9 sophomore (14.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
F Ronny Turiaf 6-10 senior (26.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg)
Huskies, Bulldogs clash in Kennel
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