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Gonzaga chases West Coast Conference championship on road against San Diego

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 21, 2018, 7:16 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. puts up a scoop shot around San Diego forward Juwan Gray during the Zags’ 69-59 win on Feb. 1. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. puts up a scoop shot around San Diego forward Juwan Gray during the Zags’ 69-59 win on Feb. 1. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

SAN DIEGO – Gonzaga’s trip to the Jenny Craig Pavilion last February resulted in a 96-38 thrashing that ranked among GU’s biggest blowouts and equaled the worst loss in San Diego’s history.

The sixth-ranked Zags are trying to make more history Thursday against the Toreros, but they know it will probably resemble their defensive-minded 69-59 win over USD three weeks ago way more than last year’s rout.

The Toreros’ defense ranks second nationally in 3-point percentage and they’re top 25 in field-goal percentage and points allowed. The Zags (25-4, 15-1) saw it firsthand while making just 41 percent from the field for their second-worst shooting night of the season (39.7 vs. Pacific in Stockton).

San Diego (17-11, 8-8) has dropped nine games by 10 points or less. The other two setbacks were by 12 and 16. The Toreros are 14-3 when limiting opponents to five 3-pointers or less. GU managed six in the first meeting.

“San Diego was a tough out (in Spokane),” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They played phenomenal defense and spread the floor with some great shooters.”

The Zags, who visit BYU on Saturday, are one win from securing at least a share of their sixth consecutive WCC championship and 17th in the last 18 seasons. Two victories locks up an outright title.

“That’s the goal,” Few said.

That’s going to require solving USD’s physical defense to some degree. Gonzaga struggled to score in the meeting three weeks ago but got it done with paint points (38) and second-chance points (24). Many of those inside baskets came on dribble penetration by guards Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell Jr. The trio combined for 38 points.

San Diego faces a similar challenge against Gonzaga’s defense, which limited the Toreros to 33-percent shooting. The Toreros don’t have as many weapons as the Zags, but they have more firepower from last year with the addition of transfers Isaiah Pineiro (15.5 points) and Isaiah Wright (13.8 ppg, 5.4 assists). GU limited the talented duo to 7-of-27 shooting and 25 points in Spokane.

Holdovers Olin Carter III (11.8 points), Tyler Williams (9.0), Cameron Neubauer (6.3) and Juwan Gray (5.8) are the other primary contributors.

San Diego’s Senior Night festivities won’t last long since Neubauer is the team’s lone senior. The 6-foot-7 forward from Germany was scoreless in Spokane, but he’s regained his touch beyond the 3-point arc while averaging 15.7 points in the last three games.

The Toreros, coming off a 75-62 home win over BYU, are battling for a favorable seeding in the conference tournament. They share fifth with Santa Clara and San Francisco, one game behind Pacific.

“Big week coming up,” Gonzaga senior forward Johnathan Williams said. “It’s going to be a hard challenge, but when you’re with these (teammates) I feel like we can take down anybody in the country.”

Williams has been on a roll with six consecutive double-doubles. That hasn’t happened at Gonzaga in at least 13 seasons.

“He’s cutting it loose a little bit,” Few said. “That’s a good thing for him and us.”


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