No. 1 Gonzaga's challenge tougher vs. No. 7 Tennessee
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Gonzaga was challenged this past week in wins over Creighton and Washington. Now the schedule gets even tougher.
The No. 1 Zags face seventh-ranked Tennessee on Sunday in Phoenix and travel to Chapel Hill to take on No. 14 North Carolina in a rematch of the 2017 National title game.
To remain undefeated after these top-15 challenges, the Bulldogs are going to need to improve on defense.
In its 81-79 win over Washington on Wednesday, Gonzaga couldn't shake the Huskies, who shot 55 percent from the floor in the second half.
"We gave them easy shots, we let the zone dictate how fast we were going," point guard Josh Perkins told the (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review. "We missed some easy shots we usually make. Defensively, we just broke down. Those are things we can fix."
The Zags (9-0) were better in the first half, limiting Washington to 30 points and converting eight turnovers into an 11-1 advantage in points off turnovers.
Gonzaga's 81 points against the Huskies' 2-3 zone defense were a season low.
"I thought we were a little flat in (Tuesday's) practice," Zags coach Mark Few said. "We've had a lot of emotional games, and obviously some big ones coming, but we responded when we needed to. That's what we have to do.
"It's just a different game when it's 40 minutes (of zone). You just don't deal with that. It's different every time down the floor, it adjusts, it's long, sometimes they pressure the wing and sometimes they don't."
Sunday's heavyweight battle in the desert will be Gonzaga's first as the No. 1 team against a top-10 opponent.
The Volunteers (6-1) hope they learned some lessons from their overtime loss to No. 2 Kansas on Nov. 23.
Forward Grant Williams said the atmosphere in Lawrence, Kansas, reminded him of an NCAA Tournament game.
"It had that environment feel, and it's something that we weren't used to it at the time," Williams told the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel. "But now we've experienced it, so we'll be able to go through it and attack it with a better mindset."
Tennessee, like Gonzaga an experienced team, has had a week off to rest and prepare.
"The coaches do a good job of scheduling," Williams, a three-year starter, said. "I think they understood with the teams we have played up to this date how our bodies would be feeling. So, it might be nice to have (a) stretch with no games. It's up to them. I'm ready to play anytime they need to play. I feel like the guys are as well."
Williams, the player of the year in the SEC last season, is averaging 20.4 points and 8.9 rebounds He has the size (6-foot-7, 236 pounds) to match up with Gonzaga's 6-8 All-America candidate Rui Hachimura. Hachimura and fellow forward Brandon Clarke are averaging a combined 38.7 points and 14.3 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Admiral Schofield will present a challenge to Gonzaga because of his size. The senior guard, who's averaging better than 16 points a game, is 6-foot-6 and 241 pounds. Schofield will probably see plenty of Zags guards Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert. While Schofield has a 35-pound advantage over Norvell, Kispert is 6-6 and 215 pounds.
Updated December 9, 2018