No. 8 Gonzaga, after slipping past a pesky Texas Arlington team and dispatching Cal State Bakersfield at home, hits the road to play three games in three days.
The Bulldogs travel about 2,700 miles to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in The Bahamas, starting Wednesday with a first-round game against Southern Mississippi. Gonzaga will play either No. 11 Oregon or No. 13 Seton Hall on Thursday.
No. 6 North Carolina is the top team in the other half of the bracket.
A balanced offensive attack and a dominant inside game has propelled Gonzaga to a 6-0 record.
The Bulldogs are no strangers to the Battle 4 Atlantis. Gonzaga was ranked No. 10 in 2015 when the Bulldogs lost to Texas A&M in the second round despite having a front line of Przemek Karnowski, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis.
This year’s frontcourt of Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev and Corey Kispert might not match its counterpart from 2015, but Mark Few’s team might just be better.
Six Bulldogs average more than 11 points per game and five average at least 5.3 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs average 88.3 points and are allowing only 59.0 per game.
One player who has struggled is Kispert, who is making only 41.4 percent of his field goal attempts. The junior forward is just 3 of 24 from the field in his last three games.
“Gotta stick to it and stick to what I’ve done. It’s worked in the past, it’ll work,” he told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. “I’m not worried about the slump that I’m in. I’m going to keep letting that thing fly and live with the results.”
Few is certain Kispert will snap out of his slump sooner than later.
“He’s a very good shooter and shooters do what they do, they shoot,” Few said. “He’s taking all good shots so that’s a good thing.”
The Golden Eagles (2-3) are coming off a win on Saturday, albeit against NAIA school William Carey.
The Golden Eagles view the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament as a barometer of where their program will stand after the first month of play.
“We’ve got of young players, a lot of room for improvement, a lot of upside,” sophomore wing Tyler Stevenson (9.6 points, 4.8 rebounds per game) told the Biloxi Sun-Herald.
“Coach (Jay Ladner) is always pushing us hard in practice talking about energy and effort. As long as we do that, and stick to his game plan, I think we can be pretty good. We feed off his energy and that pushes us to become better.”
Ladner, who is in his first year in Hattiesburg, said he likes the team’s direction.
“I saw some progress,” he said after the win against William Carey. “There is not one phase of the game we can’t improve on. Due to the fact we are so young, we make a lot of those mistakes and will have to continue to play harder.”
The Golden Eagles average 70.0 points per game and are outrebounding opponents by about 10 boards per game. Long-range shooting is a problem; Southern Miss makes only 24.1 percent of its attempts from 3-point range.
Senior big man Boban Jacdonmi leads the Eagles with 16.4 points per game. No other player is in double figures.
–Field Level Media