Gonzaga could have a hard time beating Duke even with star Matt Bouldin in the lineup. Without him, that task might seem insurmountable.
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs could be without their leading scorer when they face the No. 7 Blue Devils on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
It’s uncertain if Bouldin, the team’s only senior starter, will be healthy enough to play after bumping heads with Augustana’s Troy Rorer in the first half of their game Dec. 9. Bouldin, averaging 16.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists, sat out the rest of that game and Gonzaga’s 103-91 win over Davidson last Saturday.
“It really gets down to as long as I’m feeling better, I’m sure I’ll be able to go,” said Bouldin, who’d scored 50 points in his previous two games before the injury.
The young Bulldogs (8-2) have shown they can compete, having beaten Colorado, Wisconsin and Cincinnati to win the Maui Invitational and losing to Michigan State and Wake Forest by a combined six points. Duke, however, presents another challenge that will be all the tougher if Bouldin can’t play.
The Blue Devils (8-1) have won five in a row and 12 of 13 at Madison Square Garden, including victories over Arizona State and then-No. 13 Connecticut to win the NIT Season Tip-Off championship last month.
“They are the best of the best,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They are a really, really smart team that’s incredibly skilled.
“Not many programs have a chance to play with Duke. We welcome that, and now we have to play probably close to great to be able to get it done.”
With or without Bouldin, the only remaining Bulldog from the 2006-07 team that lost 61-54 to Duke at MSG in their only previous meeting, Few needs freshman Elias Harris (13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg), sophomore Robert Sacre (13 ppg, 5.5 rpg), junior Steven Gray (13.8 ppg) and point guard Demetri Goodson to continue their solid play.
Harris scored a season-high 27 points, while Sacre and Goodson added career bests of 23 and 22, respectively, against Davidson. The 103 points in that victory were the most scored by Gonzaga since beating Michigan State 109-106 in triple overtime during the 2005 Maui Invitational.
“It’s a good thing to show we can be successful without (Bouldin),” Sacre said.
Gonzaga, which shot a season-high 63.6 percent last Saturday, will likely need another strong shooting performance to have a chance against Duke, which routed Gardner-Webb 113-68 on Tuesday.
Jon Scheyer scored a career-high 36 points with nine assists and eight rebounds in the Blue Devils’ second straight victory since losing 73-69 at Wisconsin on Dec. 2. His 7-of-9 3-point shooting effort was also a career best.
The senior guard is averaging a team-leading 18.0 points and 5.7 assists, and had 14 points in the win over Gonzaga three seasons ago. Scheyer is the first Blue Devil to record 1,500 points, 400 rebounds, 250 assists, 200 three-point field goals and 150 steals in a career.
“Jon’s played really well, I mean really well,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Preseason All-American forward Kyle Singler is averaging 16.4 points with 6.8 rebounds, and guard Nolan Smith is chipping in 16.3 points for a Duke team that’s scoring 85.4 points per contest.