Bellarmine-Gonzaga Preview

·3 min read

Bellarmine didn't draw Gonzaga in next week's Empire Classic in Las Vegas, but the Knights will get to face the top-ranked Bulldogs nonetheless.

Bellarmine (0-3) will travel to Spokane, Wash., to face the Zags (3-0) on Friday night before meeting No. 2 UCLA and Central Michigan in the four-team tourney next Monday and Tuesday in the desert.

That means back-to-back games against the top-two ranked teams in the country for a school that only moved up to NCAA Division I a year ago.

The Knights opened the season with a 96-67 loss at then-No. 7 Purdue.

"Experience is a great teacher," Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said before embarking on his team's season-opening, six-game trip. "So, we have to call upon our experience that we gained last year. Not only do they embrace the experience of what they went through a year ago, they embrace the challenge of what lies in front of them. That is the key.

"If you go into a difficult class in college and you're intimidated because it's difficult, you're not going to get much out of it. If you embrace that challenge, you will get everything that class has to offer. That's this basketball team on the court."

The Knights played Duke and Notre Dame in nonconference play last season, then went on to finish second in the ASUN Conference after being picked to finish last.

They're hoping the same thing happens this season.

"Last year, no one knew who we were, and we were determined to go make a name for ourselves," guard Dylan Penn told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Last year, we were picked last and finished in second. So, whatever your ranking is, it's not going to score you a point, grab a rebound, or get a stop on defense. So, we're going to go out here and we're going to try to do the same thing we've always done, play our game and make our name bigger."

Penn, among four returning starters for the Knights, tied a career-high with 27 points in a 73-64 loss to Saint Mary's, a West Coast Conference rival of Gonzaga, on Wednesday night in Moraga, Calif.

"We get to play in some really cool places against some teams we've never seen before," Penn said. "We're going to go all over the place. For an experience, that'll be great. And (with) the guys that we have, I feel like it's going to be a great ride."

The Zags, who beat then-No. 5 Texas 86-74 last Saturday at home, have games with UCLA and No. 7 Duke next week.

"Being able to attack every game is a big point of emphasis for us," said guard Julian Strawther, who had a team-high 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in an 84-57 victory against Alcorn State on Monday. "Right now, our focus is on Bellarmine. We'll focus on next week when it comes."

The Zags, who are led up front by preseason All-American Drew Timme and freshman 7-footer Chet Holmgren, the top recruit in his class, have the nation's longest current home-court winning streak at 54 games.

--Field Level Media