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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga trying to extend 21-game winning streak in WCC openers

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 27, 2017

Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr. dribbles into traffic against a trio of San Diego State players. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr. dribbles into traffic against a trio of San Diego State players. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

The year was 1996 and Gonzaga’s top five scorers in order were Paul Rogers, Jon Kinloch, Scott Snider, Kyle Dixon and Lorenzo Rollins.

The question: When was the last time Gonzaga lost its West Coast Conference opener? Santa Clara knocked off the visiting Zags 72-61 at the Leavey Center. GU rallied to finish second in the conference before falling to Washington State in the NIT.

Gonzaga has opened WCC play 1-0 the last 21 seasons, including all 18 under head coach Mark Few. The Zags have dominated the conference, winning or sharing 18 of the last 20 titles, including 16 of the last 17 under Few, who sports a 243-29 WCC record.

The 20th-ranked Zags (10-3) launch another WCC campaign Thursday against Pacific (5-8) at the McCarthey Athletic Center, but this one has a different feel. Gonzaga isn’t the preseason favorite for the first time since the 2000-01 season. The coaches picked Saint Mary’s.

The Zags had a few days off for the holiday before returning for a light shooting workout on Christmas night. They practiced the last two days in preparation for the Tigers.

Both teams lost their nonconference finales. San Diego State edged the visiting Zags 72-70 while No. 3 Arizona State pummeled the Tigers 104-65.

Pacific second-year coach Damon Stoudamire had a project over the short holiday break. The Tigers had just 10 assists against ASU and rank ninth in the WCC at 13.3 per game, which doesn’t match up with an offense that generates nearly 75 points.

“We just don’t share the ball collectively enough,” Stoudamire said. “I got to figure that out over break. There are some things I am thinking about. We are holding on to the ball one pass too long or one dribble too long.

“When you watch ASU play, whether they are passing or whether they are dribbling, if they are dribbling they are going downhill. They are not playing sideline to sideline. That is one of the things for us offensively and then the fact that honestly we have to make shots. You have to hit jump shots. You have to keep the defense honest.”

The Tigers have just three returning letter winners, led by junior forwards Anthony Townes (10.2 points, 4.3 rebounds) and Jack Williams (9.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, team-high 21 3-pointers).

Pacific restocked with transfers. South Plains College products Roberto Gallinat (team-leading 13.7 points) and Jahlil Tripp (8.7 points, 9.5 assists) are joined by Miles Reynolds (Saint Louis), who contributes 11.8 points, and Kendall Small (Oregon), who chips in 9.5 points and 3.2 assists.

Portland State grad transfer Namdi Okonkwo, a 7-foot center, averages 2.1 blocks per game in 14.5 minutes.

Gonzaga battled back from a slow start and another bout with costly turnovers but couldn’t catch San Diego State. Those two areas are high on the to-do list against Pacific.

“I feel like our engine started a little bit late,” GU sophomore forward Rui Hachimura said.

Pacific has dropped four straight and its first four conference games are against Gonzaga, Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary’s and BYU.

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