The 22nd-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs will do battle with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in Vancouver tonight as part of the BC Basketball Classic.
Gib Arnold is in his second season as head coach at Hawaii, and his team has played just one game thus far, an 86-67 romp over Cal State Northridge on Monday. The Rainbow Warriors have been picked to finish in the middle of the Western Athletic Conference pack this season after an 8-8 league showing a year ago, but one of the top players in that conference suits up for coach Arnold.
As for Gonzaga, it is guided by Mark Few, now in his 13th year as the program's leader. The team opened with a victory over Eastern Washington before facing another state rival, Washington State. The result of that affair was a thrilling 89-81 victory for a group of Bulldogs that are once again expected to win the West Coast Conference, something that has become commonplace.
Gonzaga holds a 2-1 series edge over Hawaii, and the lone win for the Rainbow Warriors came in the 1998 NIT.
Hawaii senior guard Zane Johnson has rarely seen a shot that he doesn't like, which is why he led the team a year ago with 15.8 ppg. Johnson was adequate enough from the field overall at 43.7 percent accuracy, but it was his three- point shooting (98-of-241) that set him apart from the rest of the crew as he accounted for more than half the program's three-pointers in 2010-11 and set a new single-season record for the Warriors in the process. In the season opener against Cal State Northridge, Johnson poured in 24 points on the strength of a 6-of-13 effort from behind the arc. Trevor Wiseman pitched in 19 points and a staggering total of 16 rebounds, while Shaquille Stokes (14 points) and Vander Joaquim (12 points) provided balance. Hawaii played tremendous defense in that opener, limiting the Matadors to 31 percent shooting from the floor.
Gonzaga's top player, center Robert Sacre, grew up less than 10 miles from tonight's arena, so this game has special significance for him and his two Canadian teammates. Sacre was solid in the win over Washington State last time out, as he scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while hitting all 13 of his foul shots. Fellow forward Elias Harris added 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Gary Bell Jr contributed 14 points as well. Still, all three of those players were overshadowed by guard Kevin Pangos, who exploded for 33 points on the strength of a 9-of-13 effort from three-point range. Gonzaga hit just 23 shots from the floor in the win, but the club has 13 three-pointers while scoring 30 points from the charity stripe. Pangos, a 6-1 freshman, scored just 11 points in the season opener, so his huge effort against the Cougars was unexpected.