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No. 3 Gonzaga focused on Illinois at Maui Invitational

Sports Xchange
20 Nov 2018, 01:38 GMT+10

The Maui Invitational has long been one of the best early-season college basketball tournaments.

The year's field might be its best yet.

No. 3 Gonzaga (3-0), which faces Illinois (1-1) in Monday's first round, is one of three Top 10 teams -- No. 1 Duke and No. 8 Auburn are the other two -- playing this week in Lahaina, Hawaii.

A potential semifinal matchup with Arizona, Gonzaga's longtime rival for the unofficial title of Best in the West, also looms.

But the Zags swear they're focusing on the Fighting Illini.

"We don't want to look too far ahead," Bulldogs sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr. told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. "We've got a good Illinois team in front of us Monday. It is exciting knowing that if we get our jobs done, that we could possibly face those guys."

Gonzaga has seen three different high-scorers in its three games. Rui Hachimura scored 33 points in a season-opening rout of Idaho State, San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke had 19 against Texas Southern, and Norvell led the way with 22 as the Zags ran away from Texas AM 94-71 on Thursday.

"When you have unselfish guys, we try to give up the good shot for the better shot, that's big-time for us," Norvell said.

The Bulldogs have made 63 assists in three games.

The Illini are younger and smaller than the Zags, but Illinois coach Brad Underwood welcomed the challenge.

"You think I'm afraid to go challenge anybody with this group that's going to continue to grow?" he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "I'm excited the rest of the way for us."

Freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu, one of eight newcomers on the Illini roster, had 25 points in an 88-80 loss to Georgetown on Tuesday.

Despite the big performance, Dosunmu still took the blame for the loss. His coach disagreed.

"He doesn't have anything to hang his head about," Underwood said. "The thing that excites me about Ayo is his growth. Look what he's doing already."

The Zags got something of a preview of Dosunmu when they faced Texas AM's T.J. Starks, who is similar in size and style of play.

Sophomore guard Trent Frazier, who missed the Georgetown game with a concussion, is with the Illini in Hawaii and is expected to play.

Even without 6-foot-10 forward Killian Tillie, who's not expected back until Christmastime, Gonzaga will have a size advantage against the Illini.

Illinois is missing two 7-footers -- graduate transfer Adonis De La Rosa is recovering from offseason surgery, and freshman center Samba Kane was suspended during the summer for academic reasons -- and will start 6-9 Giorgi Bezhanishhvili and 6-6 Kipper Nichols.

The Zags will counter with Hachimura (6-8), Clarke and 6-11 freshman Filip Petrusev, who's averaging 12 points and 1.3 blocks in 19 minutes per game off the bench.

The Gonzaga-Illinois winner will face either Arizona or Iowa State in Tuesday's second round.

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