Gonzaga must cure defensive lapses for Battle in Seattle success

SEATTLE — Not much new with the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the past week, other than they lost their first game, took final exams and their name surfaced in conference realignment talks.

To cap off an interesting seven days, No. 14 Gonzaga (9-1) faces Kansas State (7-1) tonight at KeyArena in the 10th-annual Battle in Seattle. Gonzaga, 5-4 at the event after a 71-60 win over Arizona last year, suffered numerous defensive lapses in an 85-74 loss to visiting Illinois a week ago.

“We’re going to respond like a great team,” said sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr., the Kentridge High product who has been hitting up teammates for tickets to satisfy requests from friends and family. “We just have to learn from how we played against Illinois. We just have to bounce back.”

Kansas State first-year coach Bruce Weber had a nine-year run at Illinois.

“Bruce inherited a good team, just like John (Groce) at Illinois did from Bruce,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He has some experienced players back. They’re very athletic and very tough, hard-nosed guys on the defensive end.”

The Wildcats’ lone loss on an otherwise nondescript schedule was by 14 points to Michigan, currently ranked No. 3, but they’ve compiled some impressive statistics. They’re first nationally in offensive rebounding (19.3 per game), second in 3-point percentage defense (22.2), 13th in scoring defense (54.6) and 32nd in field-goal percentage defense (37.4).

Kansas State is led in scoring by three starting guards: Rodney McGruder (12.9 points, 5.6 rebounds), Angel Rodriguez (10.5 points, 4.5 assists) and Will Spradling (8.9 points.). The other projected starters are 6-foot-5, 220-pound Nino Williams and 6-7, 270-pound Thomas Gipson, but the Wildcats bring three taller players off a bench that has been highly productive.

Spradling had 13 points and McGruder 10 in Kansas State’s 81-64 rout of Gonzaga two years ago in Kansas City.

The Wildcats have Few’s attention, but he also wants to reverse a two-game trend of what he termed “game slippage,” where the Zags strayed from the scouting report, particularly on the defensive end.

Sam Dower, limited by a respiratory illness the last two games, should be available for extended minutes.

Few is hoping to get senior wing Guy Landry Edi back on track. Edi scored 30 points in the first two games but he’s averaged just 4.4 over the last eight.

“He’s just turning the ball over too much,” Few said. “He needs to be our energy guy, needs to be on the offensive boards, punch it into a gap when it’s the right time and he’s having a hard time picking the right time. We need him running, finishing on the break, hitting an open 3 once in a while and helping us defensively.”

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