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GU men’s basketball notes: Zags looking for eighth straight opening-round victory

DENVER – The plan changes every year, depending on circumstances, but the end result has remained the same.

Gonzaga finishes the WCC tournament on a Tuesday – it used to be Monday before the conference expanded – and faces at least nine days off before the start of the NCAA tournament.

Virtually all of the bigger conferences stage title games days later on Saturday or Sunday. GU’s extended break helps with rest, recovery and unwinding from a string of high-pressure games that determined the WCC regular-season and tournament championships.

On the other hand, a lengthy break is an abrupt change from the WCC’s Thursday-Saturday routine week after week.

Regardless, the Zags have managed it well with seven straight NCAA opening-round wins, matching Kansas for the nation’s longest active streak.

GU’s post-WCC tournament routine “isn’t set in stone,” coach Mark Few said. “With this year’s team, it was rest when they’re playing the amount of minutes these guys are playing. Even practice is hard on them because we have so many guys out.

“The coolest thing is we get to enjoy a week actually without the pressure on you. We’re able to have our team banquet and reset.”

Upon returning from three games in four days in Las Vegas, the Zags didn’t practice for a few days and were able to watch a lot of basketball during championship week.

“It was nice to recover for a few days,” senior forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “It was nice to work on ourselves before we began working on Seton Hall.”

Karnowski healing

Przemek Karnowski is slowly adding more physical activity as he recovers from back surgery on Dec. 31.

“I’m biking,” he said. “I had my first jog two days ago, which was awesome. I jogged two minutes and I was exhausted. I’m taking one step at a time and getting better and we’ll see how my body responds to the new things.”

Doctors were pleased with Karnowski’s progress at his check-up before the WCC tournament. He doesn’t have to wear a back brace and he can do some “very, very mild lifting.” He bent down to pick an orange off the floor and noted that he wouldn’t have been able to do that a few weeks ago.

“I was supposed to wear the brace up to 3, 3 1/2 months, but they said I’m doing really good and I have a young body,” Karnowski said. “So I could take it off after 2 1/2 months.”

Karnowski shaved off most of his beard that was reaching Duck Dynasty proportions. He asked his Twitter followers – the beard had its own Twitter account – what he should do and the majority hoped he would let it grow.

“It was getting frustrating when it gets into food. One day I loved it, one day I hated it,” he said. “Guys are telling me I look way scarier.”

Quick snooze

As 20-25 media members conducted interviews with various players in the locker room, freshman guard Bryan Alberts was sprawled out on the floor catching up on some rest.

A teammate noted Alberts has been working extremely hard in practice impersonating Seton Hall standout guard Isaiah Whitehead.

Face time

For a few minutes it was almost like Kevin Pangos never left. After fulfilling media obligations in the main press room, Kyle Wiltjer and Kyle Dranginis face-timed ex-Zag Pangos, who is playing for Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands, often pointing the phone camera around the locker room.

Notes

Gonzaga has a 27 percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16, according to PredictionMachine.com, which ran 50,000 simulations based on its power rankings. … Gonzaga has been a double-digit seed in six tournaments and carries an 8-6 record, 4-2 in first-round games. … Five Zags are averaging in double figures in the last five games: Wiltjer 19.2, Domantas Sabonis 17.8, Eric McClellan 14, Josh Perkins 12 and Silas Melson 10.4.

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