Match-ups: UW vs. Gonzaga

With the No. 13 Washington Huskies traveling for their first road test against the Gonzaga Bulldogs this Saturday, some streaks are on the line. Whose streak will end? The Huskies unbeaten streak so far in 2006 or the Bulldogs' 44-game home winning streak? Either way, it's going to come down to match-ups. Here's my take on who has the edge.

Point guard: Justin Dentmon vs. Jeremy Pargo
Edge: Dawgs

Gonzaga uses a point-by-committee strategy that changes by the minute over the course of the game. Sophomore Jeremy Pargo, junior Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, super frosh Matt Bouldin and Senior star Derek Raivio all spend time running the point, which can create a match-up nightmare for teams who lack the versatility to guard them all. Fortunately, the Dawgs aren't one of those teams, and Justin Dentmon is emerging as one of the premier defenders in the Pac 10, along with an expanding playmaking repertoire and dramatically improved three-point shot. Pargo has become a solid contributor in his second season in Spokane, averaging nearly 30 minutes a night, and the Illinois native shares several similarities with his Husky counterpart besides hailing from the same home state. Pargo's early season statistics are very similar to Dentmon's freshman campaign, and their games mirror one another, both showcasing frequent flashes of stardom coupled with occasional lapses in judgement. Dentmon's playmaking abilities will be tested constantly as Gonzaga's schemes have frustrated some of the nation's finest, but look for the heady guard to find Spencer Hawes early and often as the Zags stretch to defend Washington's deadly perimeter attack. An edge for the Huskies here.
Shooting guard: Ryan Appleby vs. Derek Raivio
Edge: Zags

Make no mistake, the Zags' success hinges on Raivio's play, for better or worse. As streaky as they come, Raivio has the reputation as being one of the nation's deadliest shooters, but he also has a tendency to collapse under constant pressure from physical defenders and will force shot after terrible shot if flustered. Conversely, if allowed to heat up (which doesn't take much), Raivio has the ability to utterly take over and dominate the game from the outside or by using dribble penetration with a devastating pull-up jumper. The Dawgs will throw everything but the kitchen sink at Raivio, likely using defensive stoppers Dentmon and Quincy Pondexter to slow his attack, and transition defense will be a key as Raivio likes to pull up from long range on the break. And even though frosh Adrian Oliver will likely start the game, Ryan Appleby will be relied upon to stretch Gonzaga's defense, giving center Spencer Hawes room to operate down low. Appleby's shooting will be absolutely critical to the Huskies' success in Spokane. A red hot, zone-breaking Appleby means that Gonzaga's defenders won't be able to collapse on Hawes, who is nearly unguardable without help.
Small Forward: Quincy Pondexter vs. PMAC, Bouldin, et al...
Edge: Dawgs

When Larry Gurganious went down with a cracked vertebrae, he left the Zags without their best one-on-one defender and at the same time created a gaping hole at small forward. The Zags rotate several players - including junior David Pendergraft, along with Altidor-Cespedes and Matt Bouldin. Bouldin is the most dangerous of three with his uncanny court vision, long range and spectacular passing, but PMAC (as Altidor-Cespedes has come to be called) has drastically improved his outside shot and can't be left alone anymore. It is going to take a group effort to bottle up Husky forward Quincy Pondexter, since the Zags lack a defender capable containing him alone. Pondexter's dribble penetration will be challenged by the Zags' star center, Josh Heytvelt, who has been a shot-blocking machine so far this year, but he is also prone to foul trouble. The Husky forward's inexorable energy and constant presence around the hoop should make life miserable for the Gonzaga posts that lack the athleticism to contain him.
Power Forward: Jon Brockman vs. Sean Mallon
Edge: Dawgs

Ninth-year senior (it feels like it anyway) Sean Mallon continues his steady, if unspectacular career in Spokane, drawing duty against the Pac 10's most brutal player, Jon Brockman, in what should be one of the most entertaining match-ups of the night. Mallon has been criticized at times for being too soft in the post despite his size (6-9) and solid frame, while "the Beast" - as Brockman has come to be called - tends to get a little too intense underneath the hoop. For Brockman to have his way with Mallon he has to stay out of foul trouble - something he has struggled with against quality bigs, while drawing enough attention in the post to keep the Zags from constantly doubling Hawes. One area that Mallon does gain a significant advantage is outside, where he is hitting at nearly 45 percent from beyond the arc. With Mallon drawing Brockman outside, it leaves Hawes all alone defending Heytvelt. The Dawgs hold a significant advantage at power forward as long as Brockman manages to stay in the game, and will look to exploit the extra attention paid to Hawes. Oh, and hitting his free throws will go a long way toward making sure he isn't singled out come crunch time at the end of the game.
Center: Spencer Hawes vs. Josh Heytvelt
Edge: Zags

If this game were played in January, this match up might compute differently than it does today, as long as Hawes continues to mature at his current rate. Unfortunately for Washington, they are playing in early December and facing the most underrated big man in the country. The lanky 6-11 Heytvelt ranges all over the court, favoring a 10-foot turn-around bank shot from the right that he sinks with deadly accuracy, and has a penchant for launching from downtown, though he yet to find a consistent stroke from outside. That isn't to say that Hawes doesn't present his own match-up problems. The sensational freshman possesses a post-move arsenal unequaled at the college level. As he demonstrated Monday night against Southern Utah, Hawes' touch around the bucket is automatic at close range, and though Heytvelt rendered All-American Tyler Hansbrough invisible in a win against North Carolina, he has yet to face a player with Hawes' bewildering array of moves. That is to say, except for when Heytvelt met Hawes in their earlier years, when according to Hawes, "he kicked my butt every time I played him." The confident Husky center insists things will be different this time around. The Dawgs will try and reduce Heytvelt's impact by trying to lure him into foul trouble. This match-up could go either way depending on a couple of variables but all things being equal, Gonzaga holds the edge, if only by a little.
Bench: Oliver, Nelson, Gasser, Burmeister, Wallace vs. Bouldin, Kuso, Pendergraft
Edge: Zags

The bench will play a key role in the outcome of Saturday night's game, and while neither team is expected to go any deeper than necessary, the up-tempo game plans dictates that production from the bench be crucial for victory. Gonzaga's advantage stems from each of their players having established roles on the court, and big-game experience to go with it. Though the Zags rotate a shallow bench after being ravaged by injuries (they go only 8 deep,) the reserves that do play see significant playing time without much appreciable loss of efficiency. Pendergraft, Bouldin and JC transfer Abdullahi Kuso will all play vital minutes against Washington and already fit seamlessly into the rotation. The Dawgs simply aren't there yet, and of the Husky reserves, only Hans Gasser has settled into a defined role. If you remove Ryan Appleby (he's basically a starter and will see upwards of 30 minutes against Gonzaga whether or not he is in the lineup at the start of the game) the Dawgs come up a little bit thin on actual production, though each reserve has had their moments in the spotlight. The bench is serviceable and certainly doesn't lack for talent between Oliver, Gasser, Brandon Burmeister and an invigorated Phil Nelson, but the only certainty is that though they can control their own on-court performance, the game is going to dictate what role they play in its outcome. Is Nelson ready for the national spotlight? Will Oliver be able to let the game come to him? Is Gasser ready to bang with the big boys?

Not to diminish what the young Washington team has accomplished so far, but playtime is over now, and it's time to find out whether the Dawgs are ready to play ball.

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