Posted December 02, 2011 on AP on Fox
Gonzaga had a relatively easy time going undefeated in November. Getting through December without a loss could present a more difficult challenge. The 19th-ranked Bulldogs open the month with a stiff test when they visit undefeated Illinois on Saturday. After beating Eastern Washington and Washington State by a combined 16 points, Gonzaga (5-0) has won its last three by an average of 19.7. The Bulldogs shot 45.9 percent and forced 17 turnovers during a 73-53 win over short-handed Notre Dame on Wednesday. Though the Bulldogs have played well, they likely need to step up with Illinois (7-0), Michigan State, Arizona, Butler and No. 11 Xavier on the December slate. "It's time for that (tough non-conference schedule) and let's see what happens," coach Mark Few said. "We got to keep our poise and stay together. This team has great chemistry and now we have to have great chemistry under fire. We're going to bank on those returning guys to help us with that." Senior center Robert Sacre and junior forward Elias Harris are two players Few will be counting on this month. The 7-foot Sacre scored 15 points and Harris added 11 with 15 rebounds as the Bulldogs outscored the Irish 38-28 in the paint. Sacre is averaging a team-leading 16.6 points and is second with 8.2 rebounds per game behind Harris, who is averaging 8.8 boards and 11.8 points. "We pretty much go inside on anybody and everybody, that's just how we play," Few said. Few will need his inside pair at their best as Gonzaga tries to improve on its 1-3 record versus Illinois. Though Gonzaga posted an 85-83 overtime win over the Illini in Chicago on Jan. 2, 2010, the Bulldogs are making their first trip to Champaign since losing 76-58 on Nov. 16, 2001. Sacre and Harris each had 19 points against the Illini in Chicago. Sacre scored 15 and Harris 12 in a 73-61 loss to then-No. 20 Illinois in Seattle last season. The Bulldogs hope freshman guard Kevin Pangos can heat up. One of Gonzaga's top 3-point threats, Pangos has scored 31 points while going 5 of 13 from beyond the arc over three games since making 9 of 13 3s during a 33-point effort in an 89-81 win over Washington State on Nov. 14. Traditionally one of the top defensive teams in the country, Illinois has held opponents to 35.7 percent shooting from the field - 34.6 from 3-point range. In their first true test, the Illini overcame a 41.8 percent shooting night and limited Maryland to a 5-of-19 performance from beyond the arc in a 71-62 road victory Tuesday. Bradley transfer Sam Maniscalco scored 24 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers to pace a 10-2 run late in the game. "You've got to go earn a victory, it's just not going to come to you," coach Bruce Weber said. With the Illini looking to open with eight straight wins for the first time since 2005-06, Weber is eager to see how they fare against the Bulldogs. "With some early success here, we have a chance to see what we are really about," Weber said. "It's going to be a challenge. (Gonzaga is) very good." Maniscalco, granted a medical redshirt and graduate student waiver from the NCAA after missing most of his senior year at Bradley last season with an ankle injury, averages a team-leading 13.3 points. Guard Brandon Paul, who had a season-high 17 points against Maryland, has averaged 14.5 in two games versus Gonzaga.
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