SAN DIEGO – Gonzaga junior forward Kyle Wiltjer figures Saturday’s hard-fought road win over BYU came along at just the right time.
“We had a little adversity, we were down a little bit and it just shows how tough we are and that we were able to play in a close game,” said Wiltjer, who scored 24 points in the 87-80 win. “I think it was the kind of game we needed just to figure out our identity, what plays we are going to go to and just staying positive when things weren’t going well.”
Only two of the Zags’ 12 wins have been by less than double figures but chances are they’ll face a stern test against San Diego, which seems to play Gonzaga tough, particularly at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Gonzaga (12-1, 1-0 WCC), winner of five straight, and the Toreros (7-6, 0-1) tip off at 8 tonight.
This game figures to look a lot different than Saturday’s shootout in Provo. San Diego is defensive-minded and plays lower possession games than the fast-paced Cougars.
“They just stay in games literally with everybody,” GU coach Mark Few said. “The NAIA team (San Diego Christian) they beat (Dec. 21) was a 10-point game. They always try something with us, where they refuse to guard certain people.”
That might not be as easy this season against a more versatile, balanced Gonzaga lineup. Still, coach Bill Grier, the former Gonzaga assistant, has guided a couple of upsets over the Zags and pushed them to the final buzzer several times in his seven years with the Toreros.
USD had won three straight before falling to Portland 61-58 on Saturday. The Pilots scored the last nine points, capped by Alec Wintering’s 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.
Senior guards Johnny Dee (18.8 points, 44 percent on 3-pointers) and Christopher Anderson (9.3 points, 40.5 percent on 3s, 21 steals) lead the Toreros. Chris Sarbaugh, a GU walk-on in 2011 and former North Idaho College Cardinal, averages 4.2 points. He’s made 6 of 7 3-point attempts. University High product Brett Bailey averages 3.1 points and 3.8 rebounds.
“They don’t get up and down as much (as BYU),” Zags guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “They run a lot of pin-downs so we have to guard off the ball a lot better than we did (Saturday).”
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