Athletic Memphis in town to face Zags
After securing a road win over Portland on Thursday that keeps them in the thick of the West Coast Conference race, the Gonzaga Bulldogs now turn their attention to beefing up their NCAA Tournament resume.
The Bulldogs (15-8, 5-3 WCC) entertain Memphis (16-6, 5-3 Conference USA) Saturday at 1 at the Arena in GU’s annual Ronald McDonald House Charities Classic. As of Friday afternoon, about 500 tickets were still available.
Gonzaga’s best non-conference wins are against Marquette, Baylor, Xavier and Oklahoma State. The Bulldogs’ RPI, prior to Thursday’s win, was 76 while Memphis is No. 50. ESPN.com’s latest NCAA projections have Gonzaga among the first four teams not to make the field. Memphis is listed in the next four to miss the tourney. Both teams were in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 (GU 12, Memphis 19) before dropping out of the rankings.
“Memphis is a very quality team that we could definitely use on our resume,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
The Tigers have dropped two straight Conference USA games, including a home loss to Tulsa that was just their second conference home loss since 2005-06. Memphis, the seventh youngest team in the nation, is expected to start four freshmen. Freshmen have accounted for 61.9 percent of the team’s scoring, including Will Barton’s 13.1 points, Joe Jackson’s 10.4 and Tarik Black’s 8.8.
“They had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country,” Few said. “They have high-level players and high-level talent. They’re really going to get after us.”
Memphis junior forward Wesley Witherspoon, who scored 26 points in Gonzaga’s 66-58 win last year, is out with a knee injury. He averages 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Gonzaga, winners of two straight after a three-game WCC losing streak, rallied past Portland behind Robert Sacre’s 17 points, Steven Gray’s 15 and a big effort from the bench, led by David Stockton’s 12 points and six assists.
“Our offense runs better a lot of times when he’s in there and he did a nice job defensively,” Few said of Stockton. “His hands were back and he wasn’t fouling.”