They are separated by 10 spots in the AP college basketball poll and it appears not much else.
No. 15 Gonzaga (6-1) and No. 25 Creighton (5-1) are lookalike programs entering Friday’s showdown at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Zags are eighth nationally in scoring (93.1), followed by the Bluejays at 92.5. Assists? Creighton 18.8 per game, GU 18.1.
Battle tested? Gonzaga went 2-1 at the prestigious PK80, with the lone loss to No. 6 Florida in double overtime. Creighton is playing its fourth ranked opponent in its last five games, all four away from home. The Bluejays’ lone setback was to No. 16 Baylor.
Both teams have experienced backcourts, capable bigs, productive benches and sprinkle in a true freshman or two.
What’s not to like about this matchup?
“They’re really good, not only those guards (Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas) but as a team,” Gonzaga junior point guard Josh Perkins said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
The Bluejays come in fresher and with additional preparation time. They coasted past Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 103-66 on Saturday. The Zags outlasted Texas in overtime Sunday in Portland and breezed past Incarnate Word 103-68 on Wednesday.
Foster, who is on watch lists for two player of the year awards and the Jerry West Award (top shooting guard), faced Gonzaga when he was a freshman at Kansas State. He scored 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting in the Wildcats’ 72-62 win in Dec. 2013 in Wichita.
Thomas, who averages 16.8 points, is a standout at both ends of the floor. He was in the top 11 in the Big East last season in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounds, assists, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio. He shared the conference’s defensive player of the year honors.
“He’s tough, physical,” Zags coach Mark Few said of Foster. “He can shoot it, drive it. He’s in his fifth year. Thomas has a lot of experience. They have a couple of bigger dudes, kind of face-up guys. They’re an older team and older teams are usually better teams in college basketball.”
Both teams have injury concerns. Creighton starting center Toby Hegner has been sidelined the last three games with a sprained ankle. He’s not expected to play. Ronnie Harrell Jr. replaced Hegner in the lineup and had 15 rebounds in a 100-89 win over UCLA.
Gonzaga freshman wing Corey Kispert left Wednesday’s game with a sprained ankle but said he expects to play against the Bluejays.
“I saw them play Baylor,” Zags forward Johnathan Williams said. “Great guard play, they run lots of sets and do a lot of different things. I just know they’re a great offensive-minded team.”
The Bluejays are plus-89 over opponents in bench scoring, led by true freshmen guards Mitch Ballock (22 points vs. UCLA) and Ty-Shon Alexander (14 points in a road win over Northwestern), and 6-foot-10, 250-pound reserve center Manny Suarez.
The Zags bring firepower off the bench, too, with forward Rui Hachimura, GU’s leading scorer in each of the last two games, and guard Zach Norvell Jr. (8.4 ppg).
In coach Greg McDermott’s eight years at Creighton, his teams have shot 50 percent or better in 113 games, third nationally behind Gonzaga (128) and Kansas (121). Saint Mary’s is fourth at 109.
“They’re ranked and I know they want to win on our court,” GU forward Killian Tillie said. “We have to play our game – rebound, defend and move the ball offensively.”
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