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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

San Francisco has Gonzaga’s attention in West Coast Conference opener

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 1, 2021

Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi provided late-game scoring when the Bulldogs defeated San Francisco 81-77 in a West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal in March.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi provided late-game scoring when the Bulldogs defeated San Francisco 81-77 in a West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal in March. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga has ruled the series against San Francisco, but the scoreboard hasn’t always told the entire story.

Yes, the Bulldogs have won 19 straight and haven’t lost to the Dons in Spokane since 1989. Yes, Gonzaga rolled by 30 points in one 2019 meeting, 28 in 2018, 35 in 2017 and 38 in 2016.

Also yes: Many of GU’s wins have been dogfights, including three games last season. Corey Kispert hit two big buckets late in an 83-79 road win. Gonzaga trailed by nine at halftime in the rematch in Spokane before rallying in the second half. Joel Ayayi delivered late as the Zags won 81-77 in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals.

Gonzaga’s 96-83 road win in 2019 was tied at 81 until Zach Norvell Jr. and Geno Crandall hit 3-pointers.

“Hey, San Francisco is somebody that played us really tough last year,” coach Mark Few said, “and they’ve got a lot of those guys back.”

For that reason and several others, San Francisco figures to have the top-ranked Zags’ attention for Saturday’s 5 p.m. matchup at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

San Francisco is No. 77 in KenPom’s rankings and 50th in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s NCAA Tournament seed list.

Few got a sneak peek at the Dons while watching video in preparation for last Saturday’s game against Virginia. GU hammered the 16th-ranked Cavaliers 98-75. One month earlier, San Francisco edged No. 4 Virginia 61-60, the Dons’ first win over a top-five foe since 1982.

The Dons (7-4, 1-0 WCC) and Zags (9-0) put up points in contrasting styles. Essentially half of USF’s shots are 3-pointers. The Dons lead the WCC in 3-point accuracy (36.8%). They rank inside the top 10 nationally in attempts (334) and made 3s per game (11.2).

San Francisco put up 40 3s against Rhode Island, one of its six games with at least 33 attempts from deep.

Roughly two-thirds of GU’s shot attempts come inside the arc. The Zags connect on 65.8% of shots inside the arc and lead the nation in scoring (96.2 points).

USF relies on guard tandem Jamaree Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz. Bouyea, a 6-foot-2 senior, averages 18 points and he’s hitting a career-best 44% from distance. Shabazz, a 6-1 junior, checks in at 15 points with 27 made 3s.

“Their guards are exceptional,” Few said. “They’re quick, they have a lot of freedom. That’s a hard thing to deal with, when guys get a lot of dribbles and have the ball and can really shoot it, but also drive it.”

Bouyea had three 3-pointers, 19 points and six assists in the upset win over Virginia. He played 35 minutes and didn’t commit a turnover. The Zags held him in check in three meetings last season (7.0 points, 0 of 10 from 3, nine assists, seven turnovers).

“We need him to play well for us to be a good team and he has continued to deliver,” second-year coach Todd Golden said after Thursday’s 70-62 victory over San Diego. “We probably put a little too much on him, but he doesn’t back down.”

Three international forwards contribute to USF’s 3-point attack. Belarus native Dzmitry Ryuny leads the team in 3s made (30) and attempted (80). Australian Josh Kunen is 11 of 17 on 3s, but just 6 of 21 inside the arc. Taavi Jurkatamm, a 6-9 forward from Estonia, has made 10 3s.

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