“Everyone knows Gonzaga has an incredible tradition,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford, “but from what I understand, this is the best team they've probably ever had. They have every piece. They have big guys. They have guards. They have guys who can shoot it. Bench.
“Some people I've talked to said that in person, they are huge. Just a big, physical presence.”
The Bulldogs start 7-footer Kelly Olynyk at center and bring 7-1 Przemek Karnowski off the bench. Olynyk averages 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, while the Polish product Karnowski averages 9.3 points as one of the nation's top freshmen. Elias Harris, a 6-8 power forward, leads Gonzaga at 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Kevin Pangos is a playmaker considered among the nation's top point guards. And the bench offers David Stockton, son of former Utah Jazz star John Stockton.
The matchup features a clash of styles, with Gonzaga's 80.8 point-per-game offense opposite OSU's grinding defense, which has held opponents to an average of 55.5 points and 35.8 percent shooting.
Officially a sellout, there is some concern that the Jan. 1 Heart of Dallas Bowl might claim some fans holding tickets to both. Yet fans have been encouraged to put their tickets to use, either in person or by putting them into the hands of those who will. A large crowd is expected, boosted by 4,000 free tickets provided by Boone Pickens.
And the Cowboys have recognized the buzz surrounding this game for weeks, especially with the Cowboys virtually untested since their only loss, an 81-71 setback at Virginia Tech on Dec. 1.
“It's great for us, to prepare for the league,” Ford said. “It's great for the fans, something to get excited about. It's great for Gallagher-Iba, to have a team that everybody respects.”