Top-ranked Gonzaga typically sails through West Coast Conference play, but its first two conference wins this season were by an average of just nine points.
The Bulldogs will look to get back to winning convincingly on Thursday when they visit San Diego, a program the Zags traditionally dominate.
Gonzaga (16-1, 2-0 WCC) has beaten the Toreros 10 straight times and 21 of the past 22. During coach Mark Few’s 21-season tenure, the Bulldogs are 44-4 versus San Diego.
The contest marks just the third time the Toreros (7-10, 0-2) will meet a No. 1 team and the first two went terribly as San Diego lost by an average of 44 points.
The Toreros were routed 101-71 on Dec. 9, 1995 by Kansas, when the names on the Jayhawks’ roster for the game at the San Diego Sports Arena included future NBA players Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, Scot Pollard and Jacque Vaughn. Kansas advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before losing.
The other instance came against Gonzaga on Feb. 23, 2017 when the Bulldogs steamrolled the Toreros 96-38 at the on-campus Jenny Craig Pavilion. That victory gave Gonzaga a 29-0 record en route to losing in the NCAA championship game against North Carolina.
Of course, this version of the Zags isn’t too bad either as it brings an eight-game winning streak into the contest. In addition, Gonzaga has won 33 consecutive conference road games.
Then again, the first two WCC games haven’t been so sparkling with the Bulldogs winning 85-72 at Portland and struggling for a 75-70 home win over Pepperdine.
“Two games in a row we’ve come out pretty flat,” junior forward Corey Kispert told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane. “It’s disappointing that we can’t get things going early. These teams in this league are good enough if you give them hope and life, they’re going to start making shots and making plays.”
One player who put up strong efforts in both games was senior forward Killian Tillie, who has missed six games this season due to knee and ankle injuries.
Tillie reached the 20-point mark in both games — including a season-best 22 against Portland — to raise his average to 13.2. That ranks third on the squad.
“I felt like the team needed my intensity and energy,” Tillie said afterward.
Sophomore forward Filip Petrusev leads the Bulldogs in scoring (16.6), rebounding (8.1) and blocked shots (22). He had 16 points and 10 rebounds against Pepperdine for his fifth double-double of the season.
Kispert averages 14.3 points and is the team leader with 42 3-pointers but his shooting has been spotty of late. He is just 11-of-34 — including 6-of-21 from 3-point range — over the past three games.
San Diego opened WCC play with two road defeats — 64-58 to Loyola Marymount and 80-63 against Santa Clara.
The loss to Santa Clara marked the third time the Toreros allowed 80 or more points. San Diego allows an average of 68.1.
The Toreros committed 19 turnovers against the Broncos and are making 14.8 per game.
“I’ve got to do a better job of making our guys understand the value of the ball,” San Diego coach Sam Scholl told reporters.
Junior guard Braun Hartfield is emerging as a force with 10 straight double-digit outings. He is averaging 15.6 points during the stretch.
Overall, Hartfield’s season average is 13.1. Sophomore guard Joey Calcaterra leads at 13.2 and also has buried a team-best 33 3-pointers.
San Diego’s most recent victory over Gonzaga came on Feb. 22, 2014 when it posted a 69-66 home triumph. That also is the Toreros’ last victory over a ranked team as the Bulldogs were ranked No. 25 at the time.
–Field Level Media