SAN DIEGO – The Gonzaga Bulldogs are playing for momentum, NCAA tournament seeding and historical achievement. The San Diego Toreros are playing for momentum, WCC tournament seeding and to put a turbulent past behind them.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs (22-5, 13-0 WCC) are trying to join the 2004 and 2006 Zags in the record books with spotless conference marks. Pepperdine (1982, 1992) and Loyola Marymount (1988) are the other teams to go undefeated since the WCC’s current eight-team alignment went into effect in 1981.
“It would be an incredible accomplishment,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “I told our guys when they’re 60 they can be following the Zags in the paper somewhere and they can know nobody can do better than they did if they get it done.”
The Toreros (15-14, 6-7) are coming off a 66-60 win over Portland that dropped the Pilots into a second-place tie with Saint Mary’s. Sophomore guard Matt Dorr, a Mt. Spokane High and Community Colleges of Spokane product, scored a season-high 17 points against Portland. San Diego is tied with Santa Clara for fourth place. A San Diego win or a Santa Clara loss against Portland would give the Toreros the fourth seed and a first-round bye in next week’s tournament.
Beyond that, San Diego appears to be rebounding from a rugged 1-7 stretch against conference opponents. Earlier this week, head coach Bill Grier announced that Trumaine Johnson, a key player last year as USD won the WCC tournament and a first-round NCAA game against Connecticut, was no longer on the team. Johnson was suspended for the first 12 games this season and he was suspended again last week.
“It’s been the hardest year I’ve gone through in coaching from that standpoint and you throw in the (season-ending) injury to Brandon Johnson … it’s been frustrating at times,” Grier said. “But we’ve had some stretches where we’ve played good and beaten some good teams. The last three games we’re actually starting to play better.”
Grier is pleased with his players’ resiliency but knows it’ll take more – points and rebounds, specifically – to beat the Zags.
“We’ll play hard and guard hard, but can we finish it off with rebounds?” Grier said. “The other thing is taking care of the ball. You can try to spread them out and drive, and then you have two 6-10 guys in there to block everything. It’s tough to score on them.”
Gonzaga has won five straight after a disappointing loss to Memphis.
“Only two other Zag teams have done it (gone unbeaten in the WCC),” junior guard Matt Bouldin said. “To be up there with those guys would be an honor and a good way to send out our seniors.”
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