The Gonzaga Bulldogs are 1-0 to begin the 2023-24 college basketball season after defeating Ivy League foe Yale, 86-71, at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening.
It was a slow start for the Zags out of the gate, who had to quickly change their starting lineup in response to Steele Venters suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice earlier this week. Gonzaga was down 16-6 and only led by five at halftime before a strong run to start the second half put the Zags up by 20 or so points and they held on for a comfortable victory.
Four Gonzaga players made their Division 1 collegiate debut in the first half, and three of those four are listed in our “stock up/stock down” write-up, found below.
Stock Up: Braden Huff
When he led Gonzaga in scoring at Kraziness in the Kennel, we weren’t exactly sure what to make of it. When he played extremely well off the bench against Lewis-Clark State in the exhibition game, dropping 21 points, we knew he would have at least a regular role for GU this season. Now, with Huff leading the Zags with 19 points off the bench in just 20 minutes of action, it’s clear the redshirt freshman is ready for his close-up.
Huff went 7-10 from the field, including 2-3 from deep and 3-3 from the free throw line, while adding nine rebounds. His ability to space the floor, score around the rim, and impact shots on the defensive end (he wasn’t credited with a block but altered multiple shots) will make him a huge piece for the Bulldogs this season.
Graham Ike and Anton Watson should continue to start, but with Mark Few running some three big lineups it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Huff 20+ minutes all year long, especially if he keeps playing like he has.
Stock Down: Jun Seok Yeo
Yeo was a candidate to step into an increased role following Venters’ injury, but it’s clear he just isn’t quite ready to impact this team yet. Yeo appeared in the first half for three minutes, missing a pair of shots and otherwise having a quiet performance. His playing time stemmed mostly from Dusty Stromer picking up two first half fouls, and it looks like he’ll be an infrequent contributor for Few’s squad this year.
Stock Up: Nolan Hickman
All offseason long the discussion around Nolan Hickman revolved around how he’d adjust to an off-ball role following the addition of Ryan Nembhard in the transfer portal.
So far, so good. Hickman had 15 points, three assists, two rebounds, and one steal with just one turnover in 39(!) minutes of action for Gonzaga. It wasn’t his most efficient night, he was 6-10 on two pointers but just 1-8 from three, but assuming that improves in time he will be an extremely valuable player for this team on both ends of the floor.
Stock Down: Luka Krajnovic
Krajnovic didn’t do anything wrong on Friday, but it looks like he won’t be earning regular minutes right away. The Croatian freshman played just one minute in this contest, coming in late in the first half to help prevent foul issues for the starters. Ryan Nembhard played all 40 minutes and Hickman played 39, and while that isn’t sustainable all season long it sure looks like Luka will be out of the rotation more often than not this year.
Next up for Gonzaga is a battle with NAIA opponent Eastern Oregon, who they beat by 78 points last year. The game is on Tuesday, November 14 at 6:00 PM PT.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.