Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer 584d

Gonzaga proves depth is its greatest weapon

MORAGA, Calif. -- Deep in the rolling hills of Northern California on Saturday night, an NBA scout for a franchise desperate to add a superb rookie to next season's roster craned his neck and squinted at the game notes.

He seemed baffled by big man Zach Collins, the talented Gonzaga freshman. Why did he play only 17.3 minutes per game entering No. 1 Gonzaga's 74-64 win over No. 20 Saint Mary's on Saturday?


When Collins scored on back-to-back baby hooks for the Bulldogs once he entered the game early in the first half, the same NBA scout peered at the McKeon Pavilion court and shook his head.

An NBA prospect on the No. 1 team in America comes off the bench. Why? Because he can.

In Saturday's prime-time showcase, coach Mark Few's program showcased the most significant weapon it will brandish in March: a nine-man rotation with limited drop-off whenever Few turns to his bench.

Guard Nigel Williams-Goss, the team's top scorer, missed most of the first half after he picked up two early fouls. Yet Gonzaga manufactured a 17-2 run and led by nine points at the break. Przemek Karnowski, at 7-foot-1 and 300-pounds, made his first six shots of the game and finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Forward Johnathan Williams, a transfer from Missouri, nailed a 3-pointer early in the second half and made key defensive stops.

At times, Few paired Karnowski with Williams and Collins, a 7-footer. When Collins and Karnowski were together, Saint Mary's pressured the post and left shots available on the perimeter. With Karnowski and Williams together, they had to worry about the high-low action because Williams is versatile.

Silas Melson finished in double figures off the bench. Starters Jordan Mathews and Josh Perkins finished 1-for-8 combined. The Bulldogs kept rolling.

In the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs will boast one of the field's most impressive talent pools. But they don't have a Malik Monk or a Josh Jackson. They don't have a Lonzo Ball or a Dennis Smith Jr.

The Bulldogs don't have a guy that could Kemba Walker the postseason and carry his program to a national championship.

And that's where some of the doubts arise about a team with wins over Florida, Arizona, Iowa State, Tennessee and Saint Mary's (twice), their toughest opponent in the West Coast Conference.

But then you consider how quickly one or two early fouls can change the makeup of a program in the postseason. Imagine if Kansas loses Frank Mason III in a Sweet 16 game to foul trouble. Or Kentucky loses Monk. Or Ball fouls out for UCLA in their first NCAA tournament game.

You can't replace the lost production.

On Saturday, however, Gonzaga went into its rival's den and staged a wild, game-altering run in the first half -- breaking a 23-23 tie -- while their best player sat on the bench and two of their starters kept clanking shots off the rim.

The Bulldogs never panicked, though. They didn't have to.

They know they can bring a future pro off their bench and still beat a top-25 team.

With 68 seconds to play, the NBA scout who came for Collins left the arena.

He'd seen enough.

When it comes to Gonzaga and its potential, the critics have too.

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