The collective exhale from Gonzaga followers after the Zags’ road win over Saint Mary’s on Saturday probably didn’t extend to the coaching staff.
The second-place Gaels were considered the last stumbling block in Gonzaga’s run at an unblemished regular season. Perfectly reasonable, but four games still remain, three against opponents who have had at least some level of success against the top-ranked Zags.
It begins with San Francisco’s visit Thursday. The Dons (18-9, 8-6 WCC) shot the highest field-goal percentage (46.9) and scored the most points (80) against the Zags this season.
Gonzaga (26-0, 14-0) won fairly comfortably, 95-80, behind Nigel Williams-Goss’ 36 points in early January.
“They run the Princeton system and run it at a pretty good clip,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We’re going to have to be dialed into our scouting report.”
Ninth-place Pacific visits Saturday. The Tigers are the only WCC team to lead GU in the second half this season. Next week, Gonzaga visits San Diego and closes at home against BYU, which has won the last two seasons at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Still, the Zags beat USF, Pacific and BYU by an average of 15 points.
The Dons, picked ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll, have surpassed expectations under first-year coach Kyle Smith. At 18-9, USF has its best 27-game record since 2000.
“They’re coming into this weekend looking at maybe getting to 20 wins, which is quite an accomplishment when you think about how new some of those players are to the program and to the league,” Few said.
San Francisco has held its last nine opponents below 70 points. The Dons’ four-game winning streak was snapped by BYU 68-52 last week when they made a season-low 24.7 percent from the field.
Guard Ronnie Boyce leads a balanced attack at 13.9 points per game. Freshman guard Charles Minlend averages 10.2 points and has made 45 3-pointers.
“It’s not an easy guard at all,” Gonzaga junior guard Silas Melson said. “I expect them to come in with their heads high, a chance to beat the No. 1 team on their home floor so of course they’re going to take their shots at that.
“You can’t get too thirsty on the defensive end and gamble a little too much because they’re going to expose your mistakes.”
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