The 14th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs attempt to bounce back from their first loss of the season when they battle the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday night at KeyArena in Seattle.
Despite losing long-time head coach Frank Martin in the off season, Kansas State has barely skipped a beat under new leader Bruce Weber, winning seven of its first eight contests. Since losing to nationally-ranked Michigan on a neutral floor back on Nov. 23 (71-57), the Wildcats have won back-to-back contests against USC Upstate (72-53) and George Washington (65-62).
Gonzaga was able to rise as high as No. 10 in the AP poll by winning its first nine games, highlighted by victories over Clemson (57-49), Oklahoma (72-47), and Davidson (81-67) en route to the Old Spice Classic title. The Bulldogs hosted Illinois last Saturday in a battle of nationally-ranked teams and lost, 85-74.
The Wildcats have won both previous meetings versus Gonzaga, most recently claiming an 81-64 decision in November of 2010.
Kansas State went on the road for the first time last Saturday and battled back from a first-half deficit to claim a three-point victory. Angel Rodriguez was off the mark with his shot (6-of-18), but he finished with a game-high 17 points while also logging three steals. Rodney McGruder notched a double- double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Will Spradling chipped in 10 points and Thomas Gipson pulled down a game-high 12 boards. On the season, the Wildcats have a below average field goal percentage (.415), but thanks to a plus-10.4 rebounding margin and an outstanding field goal percentage defense (.374), they are able to score nearly 19 more points per game than their opponents. After averaging 15.8 ppg a season ago, McGruder has taken a step back this year, netting 12.9 ppg on just 40.2 percent shooting from the floor (.259 from three-point range). Rodriguez tacks on 10.5 ppg and 4.5 apg, while Gipson (8.1 ppg) grabs a team-best 6.9 rpg.
Gonzaga has been one of the best offensive teams in the nation this season, ranking 10th in points per game (82.7) and first in field goal percentage (.527), but it failed to put forth its best effort in the loss the Illinois. Although the Bulldogs still made 49 percent of their field goal attempts, they were just 5-of-18 from 3-point range and committed 16 turnovers. Kelly Olynyk tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in the setback, while Elias Harris added 15 points, seven boards and four assists. Gary Bell, Jr. (12 points) and Kevin Pangos (10 points) had productive outings, but combined to convert just 6- of-20 shots from the floor. Gonzaga is used to putting forth well-balanced efforts at the offensive end, as it boasts six players who average at least 8.3 ppg. Harris leads the way with 16.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg, although Olynyk (14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) is hot on his heels. Pangos (10.5 ppg) and Bell, Jr. (10.3 ppg) have combined for 35 of the team's 67 3-point field goals.