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Zags to open on Thanksgiving Day — Gonzaga to play Kansas and Auburn in Florida

| November 7, 2020 1:00 AM

From news services

A little Zags basketball before your turkey, Gonzaga fans?

Following weeks of speculation, it was announced Friday morning that Gonzaga's men’s basketball team will open its 2020-21 season against Kansas and Auburn in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, and Friday, Nov. 27.

Gonzaga will face Kansas on Thanksgiving Day at 10:30 a.m. PST on FOX (KAYU). The Zags will play Auburn on Friday, Nov. 27 at 8 a.m. PST.

Auburn will face Saint Joseph's on Nov. 26 at 1:30 p.m. PST on FS1. Kansas will play Saint Joseph's on Nov. 27 at 11 a.m. on FS1.

Gonzaga was No. 2 in the final Associated Press last year and is widely considered one of the top teams heading into the 2020-21 season. Four Zags are already on watch lists for the top players in the country at their position — incoming freshman point guard Jalen Suggs, junior shooting guard Joel Ayayi, senior small forward Corey Kispert and sophomore power forward Drew Timme.

Kansas is No. 7 in CBS Sports Top 25 and 1 preseason rankings, while the Zags are No. 1. The Jayhawks won the only other previous meeting between the programs, an 80-66 win at home in Lawrence on Nov. 13, 1998. KU was eighth in the country at the time.

Led by Preseason All-American Marcus Garrett, Kansas enters the 2020-21 campaign as a consensus top-10 program. The Jayhawks finished last season as the No. 1 ranked team in the AP poll. Coach Bill Self, entering his 18th season with the Jayhawks, owns a 501-109 record with the program. Kansas has made three Final Fours, claimed the 2008 NCAA Championship and has never been lower than a four seed in the NCAA Tournament under Self. In addition to Garrett, Kansas returns juniors Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack, who started 31 and 18 games, respectively, for the Jayhawks last season. KU’s four newcomers include 2020 McDonald’s All-American guard Bryce Thompson along with junior college All-American transfer Tyon Grant-Foster.

This will be the first meeting between Gonzaga and Auburn.

Auburn has recorded three straight seasons with 25 or more wins under Bruce Pearl, including a 30-win campaign in 2018-19 that saw the Tigers notch their first Final Four appearance in program history. Pearl, in his seventh season at Auburn, returns a young roster and welcomes one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Devan Cambridge, Jamal Johnson and Allen Flanigan each appeared in all 31 games for the Tigers last season, with Cambridge and Johnson leading the team in 3-point shooting percentage. Auburn’s five-man recruiting class includes top-100 prospects Sharife Cooper, JT Thor and Justin Powell.

Due to social distancing restrictions inside the arena, an extremely limited number of fans will be able to attend the event. There will be no public sale of tickets, but a small number of socially distanced pairs of tickets will be distributed. Fans interested in attending the event should submit a ticket request form at fortmyerstipoff.com/tickets. Fans will be contacted by a ticket representative on a first-come, first-served basis, based on the submission date of their ticket request form, for their opportunity to purchase tickets.

Gonzaga women to play South Carolina as part of three games in three days to open season

The Gonzaga women’s basketball team will be one of four teams to participate in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic Nov. 28-30 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The event will follow a round-robin tournament style and will mark the official start of the 2020-21 season for Gonzaga.

Gonzaga will face South Carolina, the unofficial preseason No. 1 team for the 2020-21 season, along with South Dakota and Oklahoma.

Gonzaga will play Oklahoma at 3 p.m. PST on Nov. 28, South Dakota at 3 p.m. on Nov. 29 and South Carolina at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 30.

Flo Hoops will broadcast all six games of the round-robin event.

Last season, South Carolina finished 32-1 overall with a No. 1 ranking and claimed both the regular-season and tournament titles in the SEC. South Dakota finished 30-2 overall and won the regular-season and tournament titles in the Summit League. The Coyotes closed the 2019-20 season ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press and No. 11 in the USA Today/WBCA Coaches Poll. Oklahoma finished ninth in the Big 12 with a 12-18 overall record.

“We are very excited to be part of this field,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “We always try to schedule a high-level tournament early in the season to give us an assessment of what our strengths are, and where we need to improve. This will be a great opportunity for our team.”

Gonzaga finished the 2019-20 season with a 28-3 overall record, and the Zags were projected to host the First and Second Rounds on the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed before the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19. The Bulldogs return an experienced core for the 2020-21 season, including reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Year Jill Townsend and First Team All-WCC selection Jenn Wirth.

The four programs participating in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic have a combined 41 NCAA Tournament appearances along with 24 Sweet 16s, five Final Four banners and one national championship (South Carolina, 2017).

Tickets are $25 for each day (two games) and will go on sale at 10 a.m. Nov. 12 at ticketmaster.com, with a limited amount available. Masks are required for all spectators and will be available for free at the door.

The Sanford Pentagon is also the site for the Gonzaga-Iowa men's game on Dec. 19.