Facing a non-conference schedule that includes five major conference teams and last season's national runner-up, Gonzaga coach Mark Few knows many challenges lay ahead.
After the No. 22 Bulldogs survived an unexpected one in their opener, they'll be looking for some revenge when they host Washington State on Monday night.
Gonzaga (1-0) needed a late surge to hold off Eastern Washington 77-69 on Friday after trailing with less than seven minutes remaining. Robert Sacre had team highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who scored 11 of their final 13 points from the free-throw line.
Few earned the win in his 400th game in large part to Sacre and Marquise Carter (16 points), the team's only two seniors.
"I am absolutely pleased," Few said. "This was our first night out, against a veteran team."
The schedule only gets tougher. Following the matchup with the Cougars, Gonzaga has meetings with Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State, Arizona and Butler before 2012.
"Our entire schedule is going to be like this," Few said. "We cannot get caught up in the hype and the rankings."
Especially with what could be a tough challenge from Washington State awaiting.
The Cougars, who will be playing their season opener, dominated the Bulldogs 81-59 on Dec. 8, holding Gonzaga to 19-for-48 shooting and forcing 25 turnovers.
That team, however, was led by Klay Thompson, who left for the NBA after averaging 21.6 points during his junior season. The Cougars return starters Reggie Moore, Marcus Capers and Abe Lodwick, but will have to replace the scoring Thompson provided.
"This is a team that understands maybe we don't have a superstar, but we can be good as a group of guys accepting our role and working together," coach Ken Bone said. "Butler made it to the Final Four with that attitude."
Key reserve Faisal Aden, who scored 14 points in 21 minutes Dec. 8, also returns for a Cougars team that has lost four of five in Spokane.
Gonzaga was ranked in each of those five matchups, and their four victories came by an average of 18.5 points.
Washington State, which finished 22-13 and lost to Wichita State in the NIT semifinals last season, has won three of the last five meetings overall. The Cougars will test out their new more balanced offensive approach in the debut of former Fresno State guard Mike Ladd, who transferred after 2009-10 and had to sit out last season per NCAA rules.
The 6-foot-5 junior, selected as the team captain, has averaged 9.9 points in two college seasons.
"We don't have anybody who could create shots, get them off and elevate the way Klay did," Bone said.
Gonzaga will likely look to get Sacre off to a good start Monday. The 7-foot center went 1 for 5 and scored six points while committing five turnovers against the Cougars last season, though he did grab a game-high 10 rebounds.
Washington State last won at Gonzaga on Dec. 5, 2007, 51-47.