Gary Bell Jr. feels the pressure.
Not pressure to score more points. Not pressure to help Gonzaga rebound from its first loss.
No, Bell is feeling pressure to scrape up enough comp tickets from teammates to satisfy all the family and friends who want to watch him play today when the Bulldogs stage their 10th annual “home” game at Seattle’s KeyArena (6 p.m., ESPN2) against Kansas State.
“A lot of people are asking,” Bell said.
Such is the price of fame for Bell, a sophomore guard out of Kentridge High School.
“I’m definitely excited to go back home,” Bell said. “It’s going to be good to see some family, play in front of some friends.”
Of course, Bell will savor the trip home infinitely more if the 14th-ranked Bulldogs knock off Kansas State. The Wildcats have played a watered-down schedule – though their one loss came against then-No. 4 Michigan – so they received no votes in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll despite a 7-1 record.
The Wildcats are still adapting to the motion offense of first-year coach Bruce Weber. Guards Rodney McGruder (12.9 points per game) and Angel Rodriguez (10.5) are the only Wildcats players averaging in double figures.
K-State shoots 41.5 percent from the field, but Weber’s pressure defense has the Wildcats ranked among the nation’s best with 54.6 points allowed per game. Kansas State opponents are shooting 37.4 percent from the field, including a frosty 22.2 percent on 3-pointers.
Gonzaga ranks among the national leaders with 82.7 points per game and 52.7 percent shooting, but Bell and backcourt partner Kevin Pangos have been spotty with their 3-point shooting.
A breakout performance by Bell and/or Pangos, along with Sam Dower’s return to health, could carry the Bulldogs a long way. A respiratory infection limited Dower, a silky-smooth forward, to three minutes in the 85-74 home loss to then-No. 13 Illinois on Dec. 8.
“It always sucks to lose,” senior forward Elias Harris summed up.
To prevent a two-game “losing streak,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said his team must improve on the defense played against Illinois. Fighting Illini star Brandon Paul lit up Gonzaga for 35 points.
“We had numerous blown assignments, especially with our ball-screen defense,” Few said.
The Bulldogs rarely lose in the comfy confines of their on-campus arena, but they also enjoy playing in KeyArena. The Seattle crowds are typically at least twice as large as the 6,000 that can squeeze into Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It’s a great atmosphere, a great event at KeyArena,” Pangos said.
“Seattle-Tacoma, the I-5 corridor, is a recruiting belt for us,” Few said. “That’s always important.
“We’ve got tons of fans over there, so it’s nice to get over there and play a game.”