No. 1 Gonzaga set for latest stern test in No. 5 Duke

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said he thinks college basketball’s madness shouldn’t be limited to March.

Perhaps that’s why, when Few’s team plays Duke on Friday night in the Continental Tire Challenge in Las Vegas, it will be the Bulldogs’ third matchup against a top-5 opponent already this season.

“I think it’s something that all of us, we’ve got to collectively as coaches try to do,” Few said after his top-ranked Bulldogs posted an 83-63 win over No. 2 UCLA on Tuesday night in the Empire Classic in Las Vegas. “I think, you know, instead of waiting around for all the attention to be focused on all of us in March, I think there is a golden opportunity here to really focus on the entire sport as we get going.”

If the other two games against highly ranked opponents are any indication, the No. 5 Blue Devils (6-0) better be ready from the opening tip.

Because the Zags (6-0) have shown they will be.

The latest example came in the rematch of last season’s NCAA Tournament semifinals.

This time, the Zags didn’t need a half-court buzzer beater in overtime. They made eight of their first nine shots and used a 19-2 run to take a 29-8 lead before the Bruins fully realized what hit them.

It was similar to Gonzaga’s 86-74 victory against then-No. 5 Texas on Nov. 13, when they took a 10-point lead in the opening 7:07.

The Zags have won 12 of their past 13 games against ranked opponents, the lone loss to Baylor in last season’s NCAA title game.

“I would just say we proved to ourselves that we can live up to the Zags standard when we really lock in and play defense together,” said preseason All-American Drew Timme, who had 18 points and eight rebounds against UCLA. “We don’t go out to prove stuff to people. We prove stuff to ourselves. And we did a good job (Tuesday).”

The Blue Devils have played a modest schedule thus far save for their opener, a 79-71 victory against then-No. 10 Kentucky on Nov. 9 in the State Farm Champions Classic in New York. Freshman Trevor Keels scored 25 points and classmate Paolo Banchero, a Seattle native who considered attending Gonzaga, added 22.

Banchero has since been charged with aiding and abetting impaired driving in a Nov. 14 incident that involved teammate Michael Savarino, coach Mike Krzyzewski’s grandson. Savarino was suspended from all team activities.

Banchero spoke publicly about the incident for the first time after Monday’s 107-81 victory against The Citadel, in which he scored 28 points.

“My teammates had my back, so it wasn’t too hard for me,” Banchero said. “I’m not going to say it wasn’t on my mind the past two games. It was. I feel like (Monday) was a bounce-back game for me and I felt good out there.”

Senior Wendell Moore Jr. said the Blue Devils will be prepared for the Zags.

“We can’t wait,” Moore said. “The venue in Vegas … it’s probably been sold out for the past three months. That’s a game that we all want to play in, that’s a game that we wait for, and that’s a game that we come here for. We’re going to be ready for it.”