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Gonzaga Basketball

Zags face strong nonconference schedule but no Battle in Seattle in 2016

Gonzaga University athletic director Mike Roth often watches the Zags play Texas Southern, Dec. 15, 2014, from the tunnel at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review), (208) 659-3791

Gonzaga announced a 12-game nonconference schedule Friday, including neutral-court clashes against Arizona and Tennessee, home dates with San Diego State and Washington and potential showdowns at an Orlando, Florida, tournament.

However, the 2016-17 slate doesn’t include the Battle in Seattle, a fixture on the Zags’ schedule since 2003.

“Our goal is to have it back as soon as we can,” GU athletic director Mike Roth said. “We just couldn’t get an opponent. We tried and tried. We know it’s going to bother some people.”

Gonzaga was close to securing a Big Ten opponent, but it didn’t work out. Roth stressed the importance of scheduling a marquee opponent, which essentially requires a return game. Facing lesser-known opponents has resulted in mediocre attendance – a Battle in Seattle-low 9,140 for South Alabama in 2013 – and potential for a resume-damaging loss on a neutral floor. Gonzaga, 9-4 in BIS contests, had fairly close games against Cal Poly and South Alabama.

Gonzaga defeated Tennessee 86-79 last year at KeyArena in front of 16,770. The return game is Dec. 18 in Nashville. GU has had similar BIS arrangements in the past with the Arizona, Kansas State, Illinois and Connecticut.

The return of the Washington series, which begins Dec. 7 at the McCarthey Athletic Center, is another consideration. Gonzaga visits UW next season and also in the 2018-2019 campaign.

“We’re going to factor that in to how we pull it off. At the same time, that’s a true road game,” Roth said. “If we can find the right (BIS) opponent, that won’t be a factor. If we don’t find the right opponent, then that might factor in with playing UW over there.”

Roth said one possibility GU “is toying with” is playing the BIS every other year.

“The Battle in Seattle has been great for the university and the basketball program,” Roth said. “We’ve learned over the years when we didn’t have a marquee opponent, and there were a couple of those, it wasn’t as successful of an event.”

The Zags’ nonconference schedule features seven home games and five on neutral courts. Gonzaga entertains NCAA Division II West Georgia in an exhibition game on Nov. 5. The season opener is against visiting Utah Valley on Nov. 11, followed by home dates against San Diego State and Bryant. GU visits San Diego State next year.

Gonzaga and Arizona will meet for the fourth straight season, this time at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Arizona owns a 5-1 series lead, including a 68-63 win last year in Spokane. The teams could face off in the 2018 Maui Invitational and they’re scheduled to meet the ensuing two seasons.