Karnowski is back

The 7-foot-1 redshirt senior returned to action after playing in only five games last season due to season-ending back surgery. The big man received a standing ovation upon entering the court.

Karnowski looked comfortable moving about on the floor, and played like he is ready to put the back injury in the past.

“I’m really happy with the progress so far,” Karnowski said. “I’m back practicing with the team, so I’m happy about that. I can’t wait to play the next actual game here.”

Karnowski proved his readiness with 13:40 left in the scrimmage, flying in to block Dustin Triano’s 3-point attempt in the corner, then leaping four rows into the stands.

To the relief of the crowd, he landed safe and sound, and continued to provide a physical presence the rest of the way. He matched up against freshman Zach Collins and redshirt junior Johnathan Williams while winning most of the fights in the post.

Karnowski finished with 10 points on 2-3 shooting from the field.

Defensive Pressure

Defensive consistency was an issue for the Zags at times last season — often preventing them from dominating the score as much as they could have in certain games. But if Kraziness in the Kennel was any indication of the defensive tenacity that the Zags will play with this season, things are looking a lot better.

In the 20-minute scrimmage, the teams forced a total of 11 steals. The Zags pressured the ball hard on the perimeter as well as in the post, and the help defense was there every time. Very few easy buckets were seen throughout the scrimmage.

Both GU teams showed a variety of different defenses on the court. Each squad threw in a few possessions of full-court press. They also showed 2-3 zone defense from time to time. But no matter what defense they were playing, everyone on the court was very active.

Part of the defense may have also been a product of players still settling in offensively, according to coach Mark Few. Few said the large number of talented players has caused the plays to be a bit hectic at times.

“They’re pretty good players, but it kind of makes for scrum-like activity when you put them against each other,” Few said. “That’s kind of how our practices have been.”

With the season still a month away, the Zags will have time to clean things up and continue to grow defensively.

Battle of the Bigs:

Both sides focused on moving the ball through the big men. Karnowski battled freshman Zach Collins for most of the game, and it was a difficult task for the inexperienced center.

“It was an all-out battle down there,” Collins said. “He’s making me better and I’m learning how to guard better. Going at him harder is something I’m trying to adjust to.”

Collins struggled with nerves early on, traveling on his first possession and mishandling the ball on his second possession. However, he settled down later in the game and registered eight points on 4-6 shooting while leading the team with seven rebounds.

“I think I had two quick turnovers in the beginning, and I was pretty mad about that,” Collins said. “But after the first couple of minutes, I was fine. It was just like playing basketball again.”

Backcourt Threats

Saturday marked the first time that Zag fans got to see Nigel Williams-Goss, a University of Washington transfer, in action. Goss was aggressive from start to finish. He finished with 11 points on 4-of -9 field goals and added three assists.

“Nigel’s a scoring guard, so we need him to do that. But we also need him to get other people involved, too,” Few said. “That’s something he’s really good at, and it’s something we need him to do going forward.”

Pairing Williams-Goss with redshirt sophomore Josh Perkins, is shaping up to be a deadly one-two punch in the backcourt. Both guards have the ability to score, and both have the ability to create opportunities for their teammates. At UW, Williams-Goss averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 assists, while Perkins averaged 10.1 points and 4.1 assists for GU last year.

Both players are excited about the opportunity to play alongside each other.

“[Nigel] is awesome. Such an easy guy to play with. So unselfish,” Perkins said. “You’ve got to worry about both of us at all times. As you saw he makes his teammates better out there. Having us on the same team, I think it’ll be a scary sight to see.”

Newcomers and Depth

With four freshman (not including Jacob Larsen, who will miss the remainder of the season with a season-ending knee injury) and four transfers, the Zags are much deeper than past years. 

“It makes for way more competitive practices,” Coach Mark Few said. “We can go a little harder and a little longer because we do have more bodies. That’s been a real positive.”

Freshman Killian Tillie provided energy off the bench, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting. He crashed the boards for five rebounds, and experimented with his three point shot, going 1-3 on the night.

The scrimmage was extremely physical from start to finish. Many players appeared at the free throw line, including Johnathan Williams and Jordan Mathews.

Williams, a transfer from Missouri, only had one field goal attempt, yet shot 8-10 from the free-throw line.

Mathews, a Cal transfer, is coming off a junior season where he averaged 13.5 points. The Zags are looking for this same scoring ability to accompany their already talented roster.

Though he didn’t score many baskets, Mathews was very active on offense, getting to the free throw line four separate times. He finished with 10 points, three rebounds, and two assists in the 20-minute scrimmage.

It’ll be an adjustment period before Matthews is completely comfortable with his new team. But today he said it felt good to be out on the court in front of the fans.

“It was a great experience for the first game. It’s crazy to see it sold out for a scrimmage,” Mathews said. “I knew I made the right decision [coming to Gonzaga], and I have no regrets about it. I’m really excited for this season."

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