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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga tangles with San Diego program slowed by pandemic

Zags’ Corey Kispert works inside against San Diego’s Marion Humphrey, left, and Alex Floresca during Feb. 27 home game.  (By Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

San Diego has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with a pair of two-week pauses.

The Toreros didn’t play their season opener until Dec. 9, long after college basketball’s official starting date of Nov. 25. They were literally boarding a flight for a Dec. 21 game against Arizona when they were alerted to a positive test in the program. They were sidelined for another lengthy stretch at the start of the calendar year.

It’s been bumpy on and off the court for the Toreros, who face their biggest challenge of the season when they entertain Gonzaga on Thursday at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

San Diego (2-6, 1-3 West Coast Conference) snagged its first conference win with just seven scholarship players available against last-place Portland last Saturday. No. 1 Gonzaga (15-0, 6-0) has thumped WCC foes by an average of 25.5 points, even though its scoring offense, tops in the nation at 94.4 points per game, has dropped slightly to 91.7 in conference.

“To be honest, San Diego hasn’t played many games, so we’re just in the process of figuring them out,” Zags coach Mark Few said.

USD has played eight games, tied with Pacific for the fewest in the WCC. San Francisco, which has postponed its next three games because of COVID-19 concerns, has played 18. The Toreros have been competitive in three WCC losses by a combined deficit of 17 points, despite several players being in and out of the lineup, including top scorer Joey Calcaterra, third-leading scorer Frankie Hughes and starting senior center Yauhen Massalski.

Calcaterra, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, averages a team-high 14.7 points and Hughes, a grad transfer from Duquesne, chips in 9.3 points. Rice transfer Josh Parrish contributes 11.9 points. The 6-10 Massalski (6.8 points, 7.8 rebounds) missed the past three games and was replaced by 6-11 Vladimir Pinchuk, a New Mexico transfer averaging 8.0 points and 4.8 boards.

Gonzaga has won 12 straight over the Toreros, including two victories last season by a combined 79 points. The Zags have won 96 consecutive games against WCC teams not named BYU or Saint Mary’s since falling to San Diego 69-66 in February 2014.

GU-USD games at the Jenny Craig Pavilion are usually played in front of sizable segment of Zag fans, but that won’t be the case Thursday.

“It’ll just be a kind of a different challenge as we hit the road now,” Few said. “There’s just nothing in these gyms, so it’s kind of bizarre. The guys did a good job creating their own energy (against Pacific last Saturday) and I think it’ll just come down to that. You have to create your own energy and really feed your competitive spirit, and this is a very competitive team.”