This Night Belonged To Gonzaga's Big Men In Victory
By Matt Breach
Special to GoZags.com
SPOKANE, Wash. - At one point during the second half, Przemek Karnowski dashed down the floor, slipping behind the defense for an uncontested layin. On the very next possession, he ripped down an offensive rebound and flipped the ball into the hoop.
It was all part of a mini salvo generated exclusively by Karnowski. It was also a clear demonstration Southern Utah was no match for Gonzaga's frontline - no matter how the Bulldogs' versatile big men elected to operate.
Paced by Karnowski, a towering freshman who finished with a team-high 22 points, the Bulldogs rolled past the Thunderbirds 103-65 in their season opener Friday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
"Just go out there and give your all. That was the message from our coaches," said Gonzaga forward Guy Landry Edi, who added 16 points and seven rebounds, both career highs.
On paper, at least, Southern Utah, the newest addition to the Big Sky Conference, appeared to match up with Gonzaga's size. The Thunderbirds have three players who are listed at 6-11 and another two who are 6-8.
But the Thunderbirds, also playing their first game of the season, quickly discovered this contest would not be decided by how it looked on paper.
Gonzaga dominated the action near the basket, outscoring Southern Utah 66-28 in the paint. The Bulldogs' starting frontline, which included Edi, Elias Harris and Sam Dower, accounted for 43 points and 17 rebounds. Harris also added four steals and a blocked shot.
Southern Utah's starting frontcourt, by comparison, managed just 20 points and 11 boards.
Karnowski, a 7-1 center from Poland who is still figuring out the finer points of the game, showed his learning curve may not be so steep after all. He was 10-of-16 shooting and demonstrated a soft touch and nimble footwork around the basket.
"He's got good feet," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's getting there. It's going to be a week-by-week process."
Despite his bulk, the 305-pound Karnowski runs the floor like a player half his size. On back-to-back possessions in the second half, both times following Thunderbird baskets, he cruised by an inattentive defense for easy layups.
Despite his impressive debut and the comfortable victory, Karnowski still identified areas for improvement.
"More rebounds," he said. "We have to box out and get more rebounds and run the floor."
The Bulldogs only outrebounded the Thunderbirds by three, 36-33. But 15 of their boards came on the offensive end, resulting in 23 second-chance points.
That was key in the first half because it limited the number of possessions for the hot-shooting Thunderbirds, who made nearly 52 percent of their attempts, and allowed Gonzaga to build a double-figure advantage.
Gonzaga's post players will surely find a stiffer test waiting for them Monday night when they host West Virginia. The Mountaineers boast four players who hover near the 6-10 mark, including senior Deniz Kilicli, a bruising forward from Turkey.
Gonzaga and West Virginia met last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with the Bulldogs claiming a 77-54 win.
"We'll have to play very, very good on Monday," Few said. "It'll be a tough one; we are going to have to be at our toughest level."
Friday night's capacity crowd seem to appreciate the level at which the Bulldogs operated, particularly the guys down low. When Karnowski scored seven consecutive points during a second-half stretch, the student section appeared to bestow him with a nickname, the "Polish Hammer." They chanted it over and over.
The only thing that fired up the crowd more was when freshman walk-on Rem Bakamus, one of the smallest players on the team, drilled a 3-pointer from the corner in the waning seconds.
But make no mistake, this night belonged to Gonzaga's big men.
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