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Gonzaga expects tougher test from CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 31, 2018, 3:55 p.m.

Gonzaga guard celebrates his basket against North Alabama, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard celebrates his basket against North Alabama, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga’s last three games, all at home, all against overmatched opponents, have produced wins by an average of 46.7 points.

Any reason to expect something different when CSU Bakersfield visits the McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday? Not so fast, according to a source close to the situation.

“Bakersfield is going to really give us a tussle,” head coach Mark Few said of Gonzaga’s final nonconference assignment. “They’re athletic and if you look over the last couple years and what they’ve done this year, they really climb up into you, maybe like an Illinois did to us.”

Illinois is not Gonzaga’s fondest memory of the season. The Zags committed 22 turnovers, a season high by seven, against the Illini’s relentless pressure defense. GU held on, thanks in large part to Jeremy Jones’ 14 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t pretty.

The Roadrunners force 16.2 turnovers per game to rank 48th nationally and their 13.6 offensive rebounds checks in at 24th. They opened the season with a 66-61 road loss to then-No. 20 Texas Christian. They shot just 36 percent but a 14-7 edge in points off turnovers allowed CSUB to lead inside the four-minute mark.

CSU Bakersfield (8-4) has a deep roster, often playing 10 or more. The Roadrunners, picked fifth in the preseason Western Athletic Conference poll, rely on balanced scoring and a strong bench. Six players average between 7.7 points and 12.5.

The bench contributed 41 points in a 90-75 loss to USC, the Roadrunners’ worst loss of the season. CSUB led 46-44 at half and was still in front with six minutes remaining before a late run by the Trojans.

“They’re going to present some real challenges,” Few said. “I’m expecting a very physical game and a battle where they’re going to try to turn us over and get on the glass. I think it’ll be good for us.”

CSUB has won five straight, including road wins over Idaho and Portland State of the Big Sky. Two of their eight wins are over NAIA programs. The top four Roadrunners scorers – Jarkel Joiner 12.5, Damiyne Durham 11.6, Rickey Holden 11.0 and Justin Edler-Davis 9.6 – are guards or wings.

The Roadrunners reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2016 under eighth-year coach Rod Barnes. They followed it up with a 2017 WAC regular-season title and a trip to the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. They slipped to 12-18 last season.

The seventh-ranked Zags (12-2) are 8-0 at home with an average winning margin of 35.4 points. Washington is the only visiting foe to push Gonzaga to the buzzer. The Zags shoot 55 percent and average 98.4 points at the MAC.

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