Second-ranked Gonzaga looks to reach the 30-win mark for the fourth consecutive campaign when it faces San Francisco in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament on Monday in Las Vegas.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (29-2) are a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament if they prevail in the WCC tourney. So the goal is not to stumble.
“Just make sure we win it, that’s the main thing on the agenda,” senior guard Admon Gilder told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane. “Whatever I need to do for this team in order to win, whether it’s defend, scoring, motivating my teammates, that’s the best thing I can do.”
The Bulldogs received a double-bye into the semifinals as the winner of the regular-season title, so they will be playing their first contest while the Dons will be playing their third. Fifth-seeded San Francisco delivered a 72-54 victory over fourth-seeded Pacific on Saturday night.
Gonzaga has won 16 of the past 22 WCC conference tournament titles but isn’t the defending champion.
The Zags were stunned by Saint Mary’s in last season’s championship contest, falling 60-47.
“We know we didn’t win it last year, obviously, and I think we need to really bring that trophy back, because we know we’re the best team in the league,” sophomore power forward Filip Petrusev told the Spokesman-Review. “We’re going to bring it, for sure. It’s going to be very competitive, but if we play our way, we’ll be good.”
Petrusev was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year after posting team-best marks of 17.8 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Junior forward Corey Kispert and senior forward Killian Tillie joined Petrusev as members of the 10-player WCC first team. Kispert has a team-leading 77 3-pointers while averaging 14.3 points and Tillie averages 13.6 points and 5.0 rebounds.
Balance has been a contest theme for the Bulldogs as six players average in double digits and seven top more than nine points per game.
“Offensively, we’re a lot more skilled and talented than I saw at the very beginning, and we share the ball,” Kispert told the Spokesman-Review. “Every game you look at the box score, multiple guys in double digits, different guys leading in scoring. It’s truly unselfish.”
Gonzaga has defeated San Francisco 18 consecutive times. That includes both of this season’s regular-season meetings, but the Zags received a strong test in the visit to the Bay Area on Feb. 1.
The Dons held a one-point lead with under two minutes to play but Kispert’s three-point play with 1:33 left put Gonzaga ahead. Kispert added a jumper with 35 seconds left and the Bulldogs escaped with an 83-79 victory.
Gonzaga also won the second meeting, 71-54 on Feb. 20 in Spokane, Wash.
San Francisco has rattled off five straight victories since that loss, including an 82-53 rout of Loyola Marymount on Friday before producing the solid win over Pacific.
The Dons outscored the Tigers 36-19 in the second half as they clamped down on the defensive side.
Junior guard Charles Minlend, who has a team-leading 14.3 scoring average, recorded 21 points versus Pacific and junior center Jimbo Lull added 16.
“We were incredibly unselfish again,” Dons coach Todd Golden said during the press conference following the win over Pacific. “I think these last two games have been two of our best efforts in terms of sharing the ball and finding guys shots.
“We finished with 15 assists to eight turnovers, just an incredible effort sharing the ball and getting shots for other guys. At the end of the day, when we play like that, we are really tough to stop.”
Now the Dons look to notch their first victory over Gonzaga since posting a 66-65 home win on Feb. 18, 2012.
–Field Level Media