Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier has been saying it all year: There’s more parity this year in the West Coast Conference.
That’s certainly true at the top of the standings, as the Zags found out last weekend with a second consecutive loss to BYU.
With that defeat they also lost their chance to match last year’s 17-1 conference record, which was four games better than runner-up Saint Mary’s.
This year, with three games left in the regular season, GU hasn’t clinched even a top-two finish.
GU is 24-3 overall and 13-2 in the WCC, good for a one-game lead over BYU and two up on surprising Pepperdine, which has won seven in a row and visits the Kennel on Thursday.
“It’s a tough conference,” Fortier said on Tuesday.
The rankings bear that out. GU is 13th in the Rating Percentage Index, or RPI, followed by BYU at 26th, Saint Mary’s at 63rd and Loyola Marymount – the Zags’ opponent on Senior Day March 2 – at No. 99.
It all adds up to a No. 8 ranking in conference RPI, which is lifting the status of everyone.
However, that’s less true at the bottom of the WCC, where Santa Clara, Portland, USF and San Diego are a combined 10-46 in league play.
After pulling away for a 74-61 win at Santa Clara on Thursday, the Zags visit San Francisco on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“They have all those young kids and they’re so energetic,” Fortier said of USF. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Perhaps, but the Dons (6-20, 2-13), have dropped five in a row, by an average of 13 points.
They also brought out the best in the Zags in their first meeting, a 78-51 runaway for GU on Jan. 24 in Spokane.
In that game, the Zags shot a season-best 59 percent from the field while holding USF to its second-lowest scoring output of the season to that point.
GU has dominated the series, taking five straight and 31 of the last 34 meetings with the Dons.
The Zags had won 25 straight until 2016, when USF went on to win the WCC tournament and a berth in the NCAAs.
Senior Shannon Powell leads USC in scoring (15.8 ppg), rebounding (5.7 rpg) and assists (3.8 apg).