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Gonzaga’s defense trending in right direction ahead of visit from San Diego

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 19, 2021

Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, one of five Zags who finished in double figures with 19 points, drives past San Diego’s Josh Parrish during a 90-62 road win Jan. 28.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, one of five Zags who finished in double figures with 19 points, drives past San Diego’s Josh Parrish during a 90-62 road win Jan. 28. (Associated Press)

A lot has and hasn’t changed since Gonzaga thumped San Diego 90-62 on Jan. 28.

The top-ranked Zags reeled off five more victories with the biggest speed bump presented by Pacific for the first 30 minutes in GU’s hard-fought 76-58 victory. That includes easy wins over second-place BYU, third-place Pepperdine and fourth-place Saint Mary’s, according to the West Coast Conference’s new seeding metric.

Gonzaga (21-0, 12-0 WCC) has made defensive gains and experienced fewer lulls while playing inside arenas mostly absent of fans and crowd noise.

“We’re really playing tough, hard-nosed, attentive defense,” GU coach Mark Few said after Thursday’s 87-65 rout over Saint Mary’s. “We’re making plays on the defensive end, we’re contesting shots.

“I don’t know if it’s a weakness, but it probably isn’t a strength. We don’t have great rim protection. We don’t have big, athletic guys to jump up and protect the rim like we did with Brandon Clarke, Zach Collins, Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams, but we’re doing a good job of executing the plan and mixing and matching some of our ball-screen coverages.”

Meanwhile, San Diego finally returned to the court for the first time in three weeks with an impressive 71-60 road win over Santa Clara on Thursday.

The Toreros (3-7, 2-4) are going to be busy after a lengthy COVID-19 interruption. They visit Gonzaga at 5 p.m. Saturday, then face three games next week for a total of five games in 10 days.

The presence of several players’ families Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center for the first time this season provided a lift, but didn’t do much for the decibel level. That was at least partly due to the Zags’ erasing any suspense with a dominating performance from the opening tip.

“Probably the biggest thing is our guys’ parents and families are here, so they’re feeling that,” Few said. “You can just see on the guys’ faces how much it means to them to have their parents here, their siblings.

“As far as crowd noise, no.”

Then again, Gonzaga is used to that.

“These atmospheres are just awful. I mean, they’re not college basketball,” Few said. “To see what this group has been able to do, see what Baylor has been able to do and some of the other clubs with one or two losses is amazing. You’re banking on their competitive spirit and makeup.

“They’ve aced those exams over and over.”

The next test is San Diego, which has played half as many WCC games as Gonzaga due to a couple of COVID interruptions. Senior center Yauhen Massalski returned to action for the first time in six-plus weeks and had five points, 10 rebounds and two blocks against Santa Clara.

The native of Belarus gives USD another defender to try on Drew Timme, who worked over Vladimir Pinchuk and Yavuz Gultekin in the first meeting with 21 points and seven boards.

Junior guard Joey Calcaterra (14.1 points) paces the offense, followed by Rice transfer Josh Parrish (10.7) and Pinchuk (8.8 points, 5.3 rebounds).

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