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Gonzaga trying to scheme up different results against Zach Edey, Purdue

Mar. 25—One more time: Zach Edey, Gonzaga. Gonzaga, Zach Edey.

Introductions aren't really necessary since Edey, the most dominant player in college basketball the last two seasons, was the center of attention in Purdue's 73-63 win over the Zags in November and in an 84-66 thumping administered in Portland early in the 2022-23 season.

The next encounter will be the biggest yet when No. 5-seeded Gonzaga takes on No. 1 Purdue on Friday in the Sweet 16. For the third time in 16 months, the Zags will attempt to do what very few have accomplished — limit the damage of the unique 7-foot-4, 300-pound senior.

Edey has been very good against the Zags, but mostly in line with his averages. He had 23 points and seven rebounds in last season's game at the PK85, compared to his 22.3-point, 12.9-rebound season averages.

He finished with 25 points and 14 boards at the Maui Invitational opener in Honolulu. His stats through 35 games: 24.5 points and 12.1 rebounds. Interestingly, Edey didn't have an assist in either game. Passing has been a noticeable area of improvement in his game this season. He's averaging a career-high 2.1 assists.

"He had 30 (points) and 20 (rebounds, actually 21, in a first-round win over Grambling)," Gonzaga redshirt freshman forward Braden Huff said. "Great player and defensively a handful. We're going to take time to prepare for them and have a great game plan and stick to that. We're on a roll. I'm feeling good about this squad."

Edey is heavily favored to repeat as national player of the year. That would make him just the third repeat Naismith Trophy winner, joining Virginia's Ralph Sampson (1981, 82 and 83) and UCLA's Bill Walton (1972, 73 and 74).

GU and Purdue have both changed considerably since the November matchup, as Boilermakers coach Matt Painter pointed out during a TV interview following Sunday's 106-67 blowout over Utah State.

The Zags have gone with a bigger lineup since inserting Ben Gregg into the starting unit in January. They've made at least 50% of their shots in 18 of the last 23 games, including 11 hitting at least 56%.

"We're a different team, man," Gregg said. "From November to now, we're night and day different. It just took us a while to figure things out. We were facing some growing pains. And they have to guard us at the end of the day as well. We'll have a great game plan. It's going to be a battle."

Edey has scored in double figures in 86 straight games. Iowa held him to six points in a 15-minute stint on Jan. 27, 2022, long before Edey's rise to stardom.

Edey's lowest scoring game in the last 12 was 22 points while making 63.6% of his shots. He's shooting 67.9% in two NCAA Tournament blowouts.

Defending Edey is difficult because he's surrounded by solid 3-point shooters — and vice versa. Five Boilermakers are connecting on at least 44% and two more are at 35% and 36%.

Gonzaga has seen several of college basketball's best centers this season, including 7-2 Donovan Clingan (UConn) and 7-2 Hunter Dickinson (Kansas). GU limited Dickinson to 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting in Saturday's 89-68 victory and had success offensively with the big man in ball-screen coverage — a tactic Edey can expect to see on Friday. Clingan posted 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists, well above his season averages in points and assists.

"We're shooting the ball a lot better than November. We're a lot more connected as a whole," said Zags center Graham Ike, who had 14 points and seven rebounds against Purdue and 15 points and nine boards against Kansas. "I'm glad we played them already.

"I guess in the 2020-21 season, Gonzaga didn't get to play Baylor in the regular season (due to positive COVID tests and later fell to the Bears in the national title game). We got to see him, now we know what it feels like."

And it's still going to be a sizable challenge. Back in November in Honolulu, Painter acknowledged Edey "has seen about everything" defensively.

"You can cover down ball side, you can come weak side, go big to big, leave him one-on-one, you can wait until he dribbles, you can sandwich him from both sides," the Purdue coach said of opponents' common tactics. "If you do too much, then obviously if we can pass and catch we're going to get good shots."