Former conference foes in the Big Sky, now on radically different paths, met in Spokane tonight. It was as one sided of an affair as a game between a top-ten team and a Big Sky squad with 11 freshmen should be.
Gonzaga came into the season with the best frontcourt in the nation. Kyle Wiltjer is a national player of the year candidate, Przemek Karnowski is in his fourth year as a mountain masquerading as a man on the low block and Domantas Sabonis has is a monster on the boards with an NBA pedigree.
What should have been the Zags' season opener came in Okinawa, last Friday, against Pittsburgh. That game was cancelled at halftime out of concern for player safety. Thankfully, for Gonzaga, because they didn't look good.
Granted tonight's competition was lesser, and it was a home game, but Mark Few's group lived up to their preseason top-10 billing for the first time this season.
For the first time this season the Zags didn't run out all three bigs at once. Kyle Dranginis took the spot vacated by Sabonis, while Wiltjer and Karnowski played a more traditional two-big starting line-up.
Undersized Northern Arizona seemed to take advantage early.
Ako Kaluna, at 6-foot-7 and 295lbs, repeatedly blew past Wiltjer on the dribble during the early going. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. In the first half he recorded all 11 of those points and four of those rebounds.
Northern Arizona, a 23 win team last season, kept it close through the first half. They couldn't hold forever, however.
Domantas Sabonis got the start in the second half, in place of Przemek Karnowski. He put up 17 points on 8-8 shooting in the second half, en route to a career high 26 points. The sophomore from Lithuania missed just one shot from the field against the Lumberjacks.
Mark Few's early season experiment with three bigs didn't work out. It played out well, though. His team won its opener 91-52 with 49 bench points.