No. 1 Gonzaga returns home to face Saint Mary’s

NCAA Basketball

Randy Bennett knows better than anyone how difficult it is to beat top-ranked Gonzaga.

The Saint Mary’s coach has faced the Bulldogs 52 times over his 20 years with the Gaels, going 11-41.

“You have to play an A-plus game,” Bennett said after a 73-59 loss to the top-ranked Zags on Jan. 16 in Moraga, Calif. “And hope they roll out a B-minus or a C.”

The teams are scheduled to meet Thursday night in a West Coast Conference game in Spokane, Wash., the first time Bulldogs’ family members will be able to attend a home game at the McCarthey Athletic Center this season after COVID-19 restrictions were eased this week in Eastern Washington.

“It’s going to be very big,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said after a 100-61 victory at San Francisco on Saturday. “We’ve been trying and trying at Gonzaga to get that pushed through. It’s taken quite a while.”

Gonzaga (20-0, 11-0 WCC) is led by its three Player of the Year candidates in senior forward Corey Kispert, sophomore forward/center Drew Timme and freshman guard Jalen Suggs.

Timme averages a team-high 19.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, with Kispert close behind at 19.2 points. Suggs adds 14.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest.

Timme took over the team’s scoring lead with 28 points in just 22 minutes Saturday against the Dons, shooting 11 for 12 from the field.

“I felt good. It was fun,” Timme said. “Coach tells us to come out aggressive and not start slow. We jumped on them early and didn’t take our feet off the gas.”

The Bulldogs wrapped up a five-game trip at San Francisco. Few said returning home and playing in front of family members should provide a boost.

“When you’re looking at a guy like Corey, whose parents are sitting here right in the state of Washington and the only place they could watch him was when we were in Texas and Florida, that’s tough,” Few said. “I know Jalen gets charged up whenever his family is able to watch, we’ll see if they can come. Drew’s family is good about traveling with us, so hopefully they can get in and see us.”

Gonzaga has already reached 20 wins for the 24th consecutive season and is closing in on an undefeated regular season. Their closest conference game this season came last week at BYU, when they won 82-71.

“You’ve got to generate some points against those guys because they’re going to score,” Bennett said of the Zags, whose average of 93.0 points is the best in NCAA Division I.

The Gaels (11-6, 2-4) are well-rested. They had six consecutive games postponed because of coronavirus concerns and were off for three weeks before a 60-58 loss Saturday at Pepperdine.

Saint Mary’s rallied from a 14-point deficit with 7:35 remaining to tie the score with seven seconds left before the Waves’ Colbey Ross made two free throws with two seconds to go.

“We haven’t finished games,” Bennett said. “We’re going to have to learn how to do that, but I think we’re headed in the right direction. (The Zags) are not going to lose too many — if any.”

–Field Level Media

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