With a laundry list of concerns – offense, defense and team confidence probably at the top – Gonzaga will face its fourth ranked opponent in nine outings when it visits No. 23 Notre Dame Saturday.
The Bulldogs (4-4) carry a two-game losing streak into Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center for a nationally televised game with the Fighting Irish (8-1). Gonzaga hasn’t dropped three straight since falling to Connecticut, Portland State and Utah in late December, 2008. Another streak GU is trying to avoid: Falling below .500 this late into the season for the first time since mid-February of the 1990-91 campaign. That team won two of its last three to finish 14-14.
In the Bulldogs’ last two games, they trailed Washington State by 29 in the second half before falling 81-59 and they were down 20 in the second half and lost by 12 to Illinois. WSU and Illinois combined to make 23 of 44 3-pointers and 47.3 percent of their field goals (nearly 60 percent in the second halves) against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs made 7 of 34 3s, shot 40.2 percent overall, and have 29 assists versus 36 turnovers in their two-game skid.
“I know guys are going to struggle each game, but there needs to be a group of us that gets together and responds,” sophomore forward Kelly Olynyk said. “We need to come together as a team and listen to what the coaches have to say. They’ll get us through this stuff and hopefully we can respond against a great team in Notre Dame.”
Obviously, there’s a lot to work on and an unrelenting schedule makes fixing deficiencies even tougher.
“This schedule is just beating us up and really taking it toll on us, but we have to respond,” head coach Mark Few said.
The Irish are also in response mode, coming off a 72-58 loss to No. 17 Kentucky. They led by 11 late in the first half, but were outscored 45-20 the rest of the way.
Notre Dame features five senior starters, four of whom are 6-foot-8. Four average in double figures, led by 6-3 guard Ben Hansbrough’s 16.3 points. He’s the younger brother of former North Carolina standout Tyler Hansbrough.
“They’re a veteran team, a tough Big East team and very, very skilled,” Few said.
The Irish are plus 10.2 per game in rebounding, have a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and have attempted 260 free throws to their opponents’ 143. They’ve won 74 of their last 80 homes.