College Hoops Preview

The skinny on the Zags, Cougs, Eags and more.

Everyone knows the Bulldogs will be good. They’re the consensus pick to win the WCC, and Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis picks them to go to the Final Four. With Elias Harris, Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk and Sam Dower, they have skilled big men like almost no one else in the country.

What Gonzaga doesn’t have is a single replacement for departed guard Matt Bouldin, the leading scorer and team leader of last year’s squad, so they’ll have to spread responsibility around.

The sometimes turnover-prone Demitri Goodson was the primary ball handler last year, but Bouldin picked up enough slack to elevate the team. Goodson will have no such crutch this year. Bouldin’s scoring responsibility will largely fall to senior guard Steven Gray and sophomore forward Harris.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few wants something else out of Gray: leadership. In order to do that, Few says, Gray needs to focus on basketball.

“Steve’s got a lot of things going on in his life,” Few says. Gray spent part of last summer teaching literature to poverty-stricken youngsters in Zambia. Earlier this fall, Gray played the part of Tybalt in Gonzaga’s production of Romeo & Juliet.

To Few, this raises questions of focus.

“I hope we can get three or four months of giving his all here for his teammates and focusing in on Steven Gray the basketball player,” Few said, “He’s done a pretty good job of being Steven Gray everything else.”

Gray is the lone senior on the No. 12-ranked Bulldogs. Soft-spoken by nature, he says he’s ready to step up.

“I’m going to have to be scoring a lot more,” Gray says. “But at the same time, not fall into the trap of forcing it a lot and trying to do complicated plays, or trying to do too much when I have the ball.”

He says he doesn’t believe his non-basketball activities have overwhelmed him.

Gray made the All-West Coast Conference team last season and posted career highs in average points (13.6), minutes played, assists, rebounds and steals. But he also averaged a career-high 2.2 turnovers and shot a career-low 33 percent on 3-pointers.

Gray and Harris are two of the 50 players on the preseason watch list for the John. R. Wooden Award for college player of the year. Both have reasonable expectations of playing in the NBA next year.

SI’s Seth Davis thinks Harris might be the highest-drafted Zag ever (a big claim, considering Adam Morrison went No. 3 in 2006). The Zags have had a big star before, though, in Morrison, and they couldn’t get out of the Sweet 16. Gonzaga functions best when everyone plays his part. On this year’s squad, it will be especially vital. (Howie Stalwick)

Moore Confidence

Sophomore point guard Reggie Moore on how the Cougs plan to avoid another collapse

All you need to know about Reggie Moore’s toughness and ability to survive is that he spent part of his childhood living a gunshot away from the rugged Little Saigon neighborhood outside Detroit.

“It was rough,” he says.

Those same words would aptly describe the second half of the 2009-10 basketball season for Moore and his Washington State teammates. Moore, flashing one of his frequent smiles, said he’s confident there will not be a repeat of last season’s collapse.

“We’re a lot tougher this year,” the sophomore point guard says. “We’ve got a little bit more athleticism, which is cool.

“We just bonded as a team really well, too. We’re getting to know each other a lot better and knowing Coach [Ken] Bone’s system.”

Moore was often brilliant as a freshman when the Cougars started 10-2 during a lightweight non-conference schedule. Moore and his teammates played inconsistently down the stretch, however, and finished last in the Pacific-10 Conference.

“Last year, I wouldn’t say we didn’t believe in ourselves, but this year, I think we believe in ourselves to the extreme,” Moore says. “We know what we can do … Last year, we just kind of lost focus sometimes. We were really young. Sometimes, we didn’t know how to win games.”

Moore earned Freshman All-American honors by averaging 12.7 points and 4.2 assists per game.

“I do think a lot of people forget that I was a freshman,” Moore says. “That’s fine. Whatever.

“I think I played pretty well. I kind of had a slump at the end of the year. That’s just due to fatigue and not knowing really what to expect and mentally just being focused.

“This year, I’m pretty ready for it.” (Howie Stalwick)

Distribute and Deliver

Courtney Vandersloot is the best point guard in the West. Can she lead the Lady Zags to the Sweet 16 again?

It´s the perennial problem in college basketball, literally: How is this year’s team going to stack up against last year’s? When you’re coming off a dismal showing, it’s a blessing.

But when you’re fresh off your team’s first trip to the Sweet 16 in school history and graduating two of the best players your program’s ever seen, well … that’s not so good.

Senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot, though, seems pretty confident the Lady Zags are going to be just as good — if not better — than they were last season.

“It’s hard to say we’re a different team this year, but we always want to play the same,” she says. “We not only want to compete against these big-name teams, but also beat them. We’re a good enough, strong enough team to do that.”

If (when?) the Zags live up to those words, it will be in large part thanks to Vandersloot. She’s already been showered with preseason accolades, and the Zags are in the preseason Top 25 for the first time ever. But those distinctions don’t really make much of an impression.

“When it comes down to it, those rankings are for everyone else but the team,” Vandersloot says. “Our motivation will come from within. We want to prove to ourselves and to everyone around us that we’re a good team and we deserve to be there.”

Vandersloot’s biggest asset has always been her command of the court — it’s a large part of why she holds the record for most career assists at GU. With last year’s seniors went a big portion of last year’s points, she knows she has to provide leadership — and points — if the team’s going to be able to win.

“I need to be able to lead them on the court,” she says. “I’m going to need to be able to step up, adapt my game depending on the situation. That will help us be successful.” (Dan Herman)

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