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For starters, Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg has been a difference maker

Feb. 27—After a deflating West Coast Conference loss at Santa Clara on Jan. 11, Gonzaga coach Mark Few adjusted the starting unit, inserting junior forward Ben Gregg for freshman wing Dusty Stromer.

The Zags have gone 11-1 since, the lone loss to No. 17 Saint Mary's 64-62 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Their offensive statistics have soared with Gregg in the first five.

"He's a Zag, man," Few said of Gregg's impact as a starter. "He's just got great spirit, he's tough, I think our guys really feed off him. He's just a great teammate, guys love him.

"When he can knock down that (3-point) shot, which he's a good shooter, but sometimes he beats himself up a little too much when he misses. When he's knocking down that shot like he was at the start from 3 (in a road win over Portland last week), that's a real weapon."

It's fair to point out that Gonzaga's schedule over the past 12 games, even with a road game vs. Kentucky, hasn't been quite as difficult as the first 16 and dates against Purdue, UConn and San Diego State, but the Zags clearly have found their stride at the offensive end.

Gregg has played a role in that as well as four seasonlong starters — Graham Ike, Anton Watson, Nolan Hickman and Ryan Nembhard — elevating their offensive numbers in conference play.

"He's a huge energy starter, so it was much needed," Hickman said. "Especially just to throw him in there with the starting lineup where he's getting us going and he's getting the ones that don't usually have the energy on the defensive end, he usually gets that going for us.

"He's making a huge impact right now."

The 6-foot-10, 230-pound Gregg has long been a valuable sub off the bench and he's made an even bigger difference with an expanded role. His stats have improved across the board, including scoring (from 7.4 points as a reserve to 10.0 as a starter), rebounding (from 4.9 to 6.6), 3-point percentage (from 33.3 to 36.9) and assists (0.6 to 2.0).

Gregg joined the starting lineup after a rare scoreless outing in the loss to Santa Clara. He's had three double-digit rebounding games and he's scored in double figures in seven of the past 11 contests. He's had five games with at least three assists.

Gregg had two 3-pointers and 14 points in a road win over Kentucky that gave Gonzaga's NCAA Tournament resume a major boost.

"Definitely," said Ike, asked if Gonzaga has become tougher to defend with Gregg developing into a fifth scorer. "Whether it's him hitting the 3 or cutting ... appreciate him for all he's doing for us and he's going to continue to play hard on both ends with his energy and effort."

Gregg came off the bench in his two previous visits to Portland, roughly 20 minutes from where he was a prep standout at Clackamas, before starting last Thursday. He delivered three 3s and 13 first-half points before running into foul trouble.

"I was a little bit more excited because I knew I'm playing more and being able to be in that starting five is really cool for me," Gregg said.

Gregg ranks second on the team in steals (34) and made 3-pointers (30), tied for third in blocks (19) and tied for fourth with Stromer in assists (34), despite being sixth in minutes (22.2).

Stromer remains a key part of the rotation, which mirrors the last three situations when Few altered the starting lineup. The 6-6 Stromer contributed 17 points and eight rebounds in two wins last week. He was 2 of 2 on 3-pointers and hit a momentum-changing 3-pointer in the second half of Saturday's victory over Santa Clara.

Stromer has committed just three turnovers spanning 153 minutes in the past eight games.

Few moved Zach Norvell Jr. into the starting five in 2018 after freshman Corey Kispert suffered an ankle injury. Joel Ayayi replaced Admon Gilder as a starter 10 games into the 2020 season. Andrew Nembhard, Ryan's older brother, replaced Watson in the starting lineup about midway through the 2021 season.

In each of those three seasons, Gonzaga won at least 30 games with Kispert, Gilder and Watson important contributors coming off the bench.