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Gonzaga Basketball

Rested Gonzaga entertains Pacific squad coming off blowout loss

Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi is averaging 12.5 points per game and leads the West Coast Conference in field-goal shooting at 61.7%.  (By Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Pacific crafted a strong start – albeit a bit off the radar with COVID-19 issues interfering with the team’s schedule – before running into a major roadblock Thursday.

The Tigers trailed by as many as 35 points in an 85-68 road loss to Pepperdine, ending a four-game winning streak that included solid West Coast Conference victories over Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount.

Even with a win Thursday, the Tigers would have been big underdogs against an even bigger obstacle, top-ranked Gonzaga, on Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The Bulldogs (14-0, 5-0 WCC) have had a week to rest and fine-tune after their closest conference win thus far, 73-59 over Saint Mary’s. The Tigers (5-2, 2-1) join BYU and Pepperdine as one-loss WCC teams behind Gonzaga, but they’re licking their wounds after a disappointing night in Malibu, California.

Gonzaga, one of five unbeaten teams, leads the nation in scoring (94.4) and field-goal percentage (55.3). Four Zags pace the WCC in at least one statistical category and a fifth, Drew Timme, ranks second in three.

Senior wing Corey Kispert is eight points from passing Gary Bell Jr., now a GU grad assistant, for 25th on the program’s all-time scoring list. Kispert recently passed Bell in career 3-pointers and he’s seven away from No. 7 John Rillie’s 230.

Kispert tops the conference in scoring (20.9), made 3-pointers (3.14 per game) and 3-point percentage (48.9). Joel Ayayi, Timme and Kispert are 1-2-3 in field-goal percentage with Jalen Suggs at No. 6.

The Zags’ prolific offense will be a huge test for a Pacific program that has proven to be resilient and physical under fifth-year head coach Damon Stoudamire, who guided the Tigers to 23 wins last season, the program’s most since 2013.

The Tigers entered the week as the conference leader in scoring defense (61.4) before giving up a season-high 85 points to the Waves. Pacific prefers a slower pace and patience at the offensive end.

Pacific keeps the scorer’s table busy with 13 players averaging at least 9 minutes, though three of those have appeared in three games or less.

Sophomore guard Daniss Jenkins (13.1 points), senior forward Jeremiah Bailey (11.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 12 steals) and senior guard Broc Finstuen (11.1 points, 6.1 rebounds) fuel the offense. Loyola Marymount transfer Jordan Bell chips in 8.9 points and 5.1 boards.