Bulldogs get underway in showdown with Hornets

Nov 14, 2014 - 5:01 PM Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The 13th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs get their 2014-15 season underway on Friday evening, as they take on the Sacramento State Hornets at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Mark Few's Bulldogs once again ran roughshod over the West Coast Conference, posting a 29-7 overall record, while capturing the WCC regular season crown (15-3) and tournament title, eh route to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While the team didn't successfully navigate the tournament field, it was yet another highly successful campaign in Spokane. The Zags return most of that team and add a couple of supremely talented newcomers, so a 30+ win season isn't out of the realm of possibility this year.

Brian Katz's Hornets went just 14-16 a year ago, but a 10-10 mark in the Big Sky was good enough to earn a spot in the conference tournament for the first time since 2006. With all five starters returning and four others with some playing time as well, Sacramento State may be poised for a nice jump in the BSC standings in 2014-15.

This marks the fifth all-time meeting between these two teams. The series is knotted up at 2-2, with the last meeting being a 66-44 Gonzaga home win back in 1996.

The Hornets could make a major move toward the top of the Big Sky thanks to the entire starting lineup returning. Senior guard Dylan Garrity, who has been named honorable mention all-conference in each of the previous three campaigns, should be laying claim to a first- or second-team spot this time around. One of the all- time leaders in assists in the Big Sky, Garrity was responsible for 107 dishes and was one of two players scoring in double figures (13.2 ppg), as he shot an impressive 47.2 percent behind the 3-point line last season. Mikh McKinney, the leading scorer in 2013-14 with 16.6 ppg, proved to be more than just a scorer, as he ranked second in the league with 4.6 assists per contest. As a unit, Sacramento State was second in the league in assists with 13.4 per contest. The versatile Cody Demps (8.0 ppg) can play multiple positions and is a defensive specialist. Sophomores Nick Hornsby (6-7, 220) and Eric Stuteville (6-11, 250) will handle things in the frontcourt and showed flashes of strong play as freshmen a year ago.

Not only does Gonzaga have the talent to run away with the conference crown, there is enough in the cupboard to make a serious run at the national title. The Zags lose a solid frontcourt option with the departure of Sam Dower (14.4 ppg), but have more than enough to make up for it. The backcourt is top heavy with the return of Kevin Pangos (14.4 ppg) at the point and Gary Bell Jr. (11.0 ppg). Throw in USC transfer Byron Wesley (17.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg), along with sixth-man Kyle Draginis (6.1 ppg) and there are plenty of moving parts for Few to work with. Replacing Dower up front would be a concern for most teams, but Gonzaga has the seven-footer Przemek Karnowski (10.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg) in the middle to play along 6-10 Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer (10.2 ppg in 2013). The cream of the recruiting crop is 6-10 Domantas Sabonis, the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis.

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