Anton Watson leads No. 11 Gonzaga against Cal St. Bakersfield
League: NCAA Basketball
Posted on: 27 Nov, 2023 at 11:37 PM
Credit: Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports
How do you improve on near-perfection?
That's the task facing Gonzaga forward Anton Watson after a career-best game Wednesday night against UCLA at the Maui Invitational, where he went 14-of-15 from the field for 32 points in the Bulldogs' 69-65 win for fifth place.
Watson will try to craft an encore on Tuesday night when No. 11 Gonzaga hosts Cal State Bakersfield in a nonconference matchup in Spokane, Wash.
Watson, whose previous career high was 23 points on Jan. 9, 2021 against Portland, scored 25 second-half points to help the Bulldogs up their record to 4-1.
"I was talking to my brother a lot and I just kind of told him that I just needed to see the first one go through," Watson said. "I was just being aggressive and they kind of gave me some open shots and I just kept it rolling. Just being aggressive; that's been kind of key this whole year for me and this was the game to do it."
Watson is leading five Gonzaga players in double figures at 16.6 points per game while also grabbing 8.0 rebounds. Wyoming transfer Graham Ike is chipping in 13.8 ppg while matching Watson's production on the boards.
Early trends suggest this could be a Zags team that plays inside-out. They're averaging 83.4 points without shooting well from the 3-point line (30.3 percent) or the foul line (63.7 percent). Kenpom.com has them rated among the top 15 in Division I in adjusted efficiency on both offense and defense.
It was that defense that saved them against UCLA when hardly anyone else besides Watson could make a shot.
"We did a great job of digging deep and getting those stops there at the end and making just enough plays to eke it out," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That was a tough, tough kind of a rock fight of a game."
As for Cal State Bakersfield (3-3), it's coming off a 59-40 loss Wednesday to Tarleton State in the championship game of the SoCal Challenge, Sand Division in San Juan Capristrano, Calif. The Roadrunners made only 15 of 45 shots from the field and got just 16 points out of their starting lineup.
Offense has been an issue for Cal State Bakersfield so far. It's made only 42.7 percent of its field-goal tries, including just 22 of 93 from the 3-point line, and is scoring 64.5 ppg. Its only double-figure scorer is 5-foot-10 guard Kaleb Higgins (16.3 ppg), who was held to four points on Wednesday and went 0-for-6 from the field.
Veteran coach Rod Barnes, in his 13th year with the Roadrunners, believes Higgins will shake off that game and have a great senior season.
"We've added some guys around him with experience," Barnes said. "I felt at times last year he was trying to win the game himself. Now with people around him, it will take some pressure off him and he can play more like a point guard."
The Zags have won all four previous matchups between the teams, including a 77-49 thumping in the teams' last game four years ago.
--Field Level Media