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Unbeaten, top-ranked Gonzaga aims for outright WCC men’s championship

San Diego forward Cameron Neubauer (20) and San Diego forward Juwan Gray (12) foul Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) during second half of a NCAA college basketball game, Thurs., Jan. 26, 2017, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
San Diego forward Cameron Neubauer (20) and San Diego forward Juwan Gray (12) foul Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) during second half of a NCAA college basketball game, Thurs., Jan. 26, 2017, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga coach Mark Few reminded the assembled media after last Thursday’s win over San Francisco that the WCC title remains one of the program’s fundamental goals.

Shared titles, not so much.

No. 1 Gonzaga (28-0, 16-0 WCC) can clinch an outright championship with a road win over San Diego (12-16, 5-11) on Thursday. GU and Saint Mary’s were co-champions last year, but, as Few pointed out recently, the Gaels swept the Zags during the regular season.

“We want to win that thing outright,” Few said. “We’ll go down Thursday with that on our mind.”

It sounds like a mere formality, but rewind to the start of the season. Gonzaga was in the familiar position as the favorite, but there were conflicting opinions. Saint Mary’s, which returned every key player from a title, picked up three of 10 first-place votes in the preseason poll.

The Gaels (24-3), arguably, are in the midst of their best season under coach Randy Bennett. They’ve been ranked all season, a program first. They’re 16th in the latest RPI. They boast a scoring margin of 15.5 points, nearly three points clear of Bennett’s best teams.

And they lost by a combined 33 points in two matchups against the Zags, accounting for the two-game separation in the standings.

Gonzaga’s task this week is the outright title and securing an unbeaten regular season. If the Zags were to add on a WCC tournament title, they’d become just the 20th team to enter the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record.

“We only have two games left for the conference season, one home game left (Saturday vs. BYU),” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “We’re going to try to come out and close the deal.”

Sophomore guard Tyler Williams hit a jump shot at the buzzer as San Diego snapped a five-game losing skid with a 60-58 win in double overtime at Santa Clara on Saturday.

The Toreros have struggled to put up points in WCC play. They’ve reached 70 points once in the last 10 games. Gonzaga won the first meeting 79-43 last month. Saint Mary’s beat USD 71-27 earlier this month.

University High product Brett Bailey of the Toreros ranks sixth in the conference in scoring (15.9) and fifth in rebounding (7.0). Sophomore guard Olin Carter III is right behind at 15.2 points and forward Cameron Neubauer is coming off a 24-point performance against Santa Clara.

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