Dixie State coach Jon Judkins couldn’t resist making a joke when asked about playing No. 1 Gonzaga in the season opener, the second straight year the Trailblazers will make a trip to Spokane, Wash.
“Well, I’m looking for a new scheduling person, so if there’s anybody available, I’d love to have them,” Judkins said, tongue in cheek. “We played them last year and it was great. The only bad part was there was no fans in the crowd. It was still a great experience for our guys. When they called us again and asked us, we jumped on it.”
The Trailblazers, from St. George, Utah, were in their first season in NCAA Division I last year, and they took a 112-67 loss to the Zags on their way to an 8-13 overall record.
Despite returning four starters and five of their top six scorers, Dixie State was picked to finish 12th in the 13-team Western Athletic Conference in the preseason polls of coaches and media members.
“We’re way ahead of where we were at this time last year,” Judkins said. “We kind of saw that (preseason assessment) and knew that was probably where we were going to be and now we just are ready to take that challenge and beat teams that maybe don’t think we’re that good.”
The Trailblazers return top scorer Cameron Gooden, a guard who averaged 13.1 points per game last season. Gooden scored 20 in the loss to the Zags.
“We have work to do, as a group and as a whole unit,” Gooden told the St. George Spectrum & Daily News. “Just the little things, because in the games they always add up.”
Gonzaga went undefeated last season until an 86-70 loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament’s championship game.
Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert, the Nos. 5 and 15 selections in the NBA draft, are gone.
However, the Zags return Drew Timme, the Karl Malone Award winner as college’s best power forward, and hauled in the nation’s No. 3-rated recruiting class, featuring top overall prospect Chet Holmgren, a 7-footer who was teammate of Suggs at Minnehaha Academy in Minnesota. Newcomers Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman were also among ESPN’s top 25 in the class.
Gonzaga also added guard Rasir Bolton, a transfer from Iowa State who formerly played for Penn State, and he will pair with Canadian international Andrew Nembhard in the backcourt.
The Zags played a pair of exhibitions, defeating Eastern Oregon 115-62 and Lewis-Clark State 112-62.
Timme had game-high totals of 25 points and eight rebounds in just 18 minutes of playing time Friday against Lewis-Clark State. Holmgren scored in double digits in both exhibitions. Both players appeared on the National Association of Basketball Coaches preseason player of year watch list.
“There will be times when we use them both inside, or at times both will be on the perimeter,” Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson told The Athletic. “You’ll see traditional high-low looks with both of them. They’re completely interchangeable, so that provides us with such variety.”
Michaelson will be the acting head coach Tuesday as Mark Few completes a suspension for an offseason DUI citation.–Field Level Media