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Sacramento St.-Gonzaga Preview

(AP) – Guard Kevin Pangos was slowed last season by toe and ankle ailments, but still managed to be named to the all-West Coast Conference team.

This season, the senior is healthy and anxious to lead deep and talented No. 13 Gonzaga to its 17th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

”I took a lot of time off in the summer,” said Pangos, who was diagnosed last year with turf toe, which made it extremely painful to make his quick moves. ”My feet are feeling great and it feels good to run properly again.”

Gonzaga has won 80 percent of its games in 15 seasons under coach Mark Few. But hopes are higher than normal for this team, which boasts several returning starters and some intriguing newcomers.

”We’ve got a lot of talent, but we’ve got to put it all together now,” Pangos said.

The Bulldogs will try to begin doing so when they host Sacramento State on Friday night.

Few’s expectations revolve around getting each athlete to play at his full potential, and getting the most out of the team.

”If we can do that, we have enough in the stable that we’ll have a phenomenal year,” Few said.

Few noted that last season’s team, which went 29-7 and lost in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32, ”tapped out at their full potential.” The biggest losses from that team are forward Sam Dower and guard David Stockton.

Two years ago, a Gonzaga team led by Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris reached No. 1 in the nation and earned a top seed in the NCAA tournament. But that team was knocked out of the tournament in the third round, continuing a string of early exits for the Bulldogs.

”We don’t want to say that if we are not No. 1, then the season is a failure,” Pangos said. ”Everyone on the team is competitive and we want to win every single game we play.

”The only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves.”

The talent starts in the backcourt. Pangos averaged 14.0 points and 3.6 assists in 2013-14, while Gary Bell Jr., also slowed by a broken hand last season, averaged 11 points and is back at full strength.

”We’ve been close since our freshman year,” Pangos said. “I couldn’t ask for a better on-court partner.”

Also back is center Przemek Karnowski, who averaged 10.0 points and 7.0 rebounds last season. Role players Kyle Dranginis and Angel Nunez also return.

Few is leery of any hype.

”We really haven’t had a bad team in 16 years … so it will be way, way more difficult for this to be the best team we’ve ever had,” said Few, who has the highest winning percentage among active Division I coaches at 80.1 percent (403-100). ”It’s certainly possible, but the bar has been set high.”

Kyle Wiltjer, a transfer from Kentucky who had to sit out last season, averaged 10.0 points in 2012-13.

”He can really shoot the ball out to 25 feet,” Few said. ”He changed his body, got in shape and became adept at scoring around the basket. He’s really going to help us.”

Byron Wesley, who averaged 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds for USC last season, transferred to Gonzaga and is immediately eligible to play. Wesley ”gives us what we have not had the last few years: a big, physical, athletic wing with a mid-range game,” Few said.

Few likes a tough non-conference schedule, and this season is no exception. The Bulldogs play No. 22 SMU, No. 2 Arizona, UCLA, Washington State, Georgia and Memphis.

Their first test shouldn’t be nearly that challenging, as Sacramento State dropped three of its last four in 2013-14 to finish at 14-16. The Hornets haven’t posted a winning record since 1988-89.

Sacramento State returns all five starters and is led by point guard Mikh McKinney, who averaged team bests of 16.6 points and 4.6 assists, and fellow senior guard Dylan Garrity (13.2, 3.6). Junior guard Cody Demps averaged 8.0 points and 4.2 rebounds.

The Hornets are 0-13 against ranked teams since joining Division I.

The schools have met four times, the most recent a 66-44 Gonzaga win in January 1996.

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