Top-ranked Gonzaga makes its return to the court on Saturday, facing an arduous task after being sidelined for more than two weeks.
The Bulldogs battle No. 3 Iowa at Sioux Falls, S.D., in a highly anticipated nonconference game in the Sanford Pentagon.
The Bulldogs (3-0) had to pull out of a 1 vs. 2 showdown with Baylor on Dec. 5 due to COVID-19 issues, and then paused the program the following day, leading to four other contests being scrapped.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was able to hold a full practice on Thursday for the first time since Dec. 4 and he expressed concern about his team's conditioning level going into the contest against the powerful Hawkeyes (6-0), who are led by All-American Luka Garza.
"I can tell you in the (22) years I've been coaching this is probably the biggest challenge I've faced as a head coach," Few said on a video conference call on Thursday. "To even use the term 'monumental challenge' would be doing it a disservice.
"... Then there is the factor of a game plan for one of the top offenses in college basketball and the best scorer in college basketball."
Garza is averaging 29.2 points and nine rebounds a game. The 6-11 senior is the main cog in an offense averaging 100.5 points, and he has been blistering from inside and out by making 69.1 percent of his shots, including -- yes, 68.4 percent from beyond the arc (13 of 19).
Iowa has made 70 shots from 3-point range in its first six games, while opponents have made 40.
Complicating factors is the player who will be assigned to slow Garza is Drew Timme, who Few indicated was unable to do anything during the team's shutdown.
Timme leads Gonzaga in scoring at 23.3 points per game. Corey Kispert (22.3) is also off to a hot start.
Despite the presence of the strong duo, Few feels major concerns since posting an 87-82 triumph over West Virginia on Dec. 2.
"It's just the way it is and everybody's got a story in this thing so you've just got to power through it," Few said "It's a huge challenge."
The Hawkeyes are winning by an average of 32 points and they topped 100 for the third time with Tuesday's 106-53 shellacking of Northern Illinois.
Garza scored 23 points -- his second lowest outing of the season while playing just 20 minutes in the one-sided game. Joe Wieskamp scored 20 points to raise his average to 15.2, second-best on the squad.
Iowa has been looking forward to the encounter with the Zags, as it sees itself as a true national title contender.
"It's going to be a sneak peak of what a Final Four or national championship game could look like," said Jordan Bohannon, who is tied for the team lead in 3-pointers (13). "It's the most important game on our schedule with the next-game mentality we're going to keep having.
"At the end of the day, we think we're the best team in the country and we want to go out and show it. We have shown the type of team we have and what we're able to do this year. This is another opportunity to continue to build our resume for the end of the year."
Garza can sense the magnitude as well, and a big outing against Gonzaga would further his bid for national player of the year honors.
"It is what you dream about when you're a kid working out," Garza said. "It is what I have worked toward in my whole career and what I will continue to work to get in these types of moments the rest of my life."
Gonzaga recorded an 87-68 victory over the Hawkeyes in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, its second win in a tourney in which it eventually lost to Duke in the Elite Eight. Iowa holds a 2-1 series lead as it won two matchups in mid-1980s.
--Field Level Media