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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘Reamped’ and ‘rejuiced’ Gonzaga returns from weeklong layoff to face San Francisco in WCC semifinal

March 6, 2022 Updated Mon., March 7, 2022 at 9:15 a.m.

LAS VEGAS – In many ways, this era of Gonzaga basketball has been defined by winning streaks. Much less has been made about the Bulldogs’ knack for avoiding losing streaks.

Gonzaga hasn’t lost consecutive games since 2018, when No. 7 Tennessee squeaked out a 76-73 win on Dec. 9 at a neutral site in Phoenix and No. 12 North Carolina upended the Bulldogs 103-90 six days later at the Dean Smith Center.

The Zags haven’t dropped consecutive games to opponents from the West Coast Conference since 2014, when BYU (73-65) and San Diego (69-66) knocked them off during a three-day stretch in late February.

It may be worth keeping those facts in mind as top-seeded Gonzaga (24-3) enters Monday’s WCC Tournament semifinal game (6 p.m., ESPN) against fourth-seeded San Francisco (24-8) looking to avenge a Feb. 26 loss to then-No. 23 Saint Mary’s in the regular season finale.

A 12-point favorite on Monday, Gonzaga has been part of every WCC championship game since 1997 and the Bulldogs have won 112 consecutive games against WCC teams not named Saint Mary’s and BYU. They have a 23-game win streak against San Francisco and haven’t lost to the Dons on a neutral floor since 1998.

Those things aside, the Bulldogs will be dialed in on Monday after having eight days to sit on the Saint Mary’s loss, make on-court corrections and parse through film clips of a game where Mark Few called his team out for a lack of physicality and aggression.

“It’s been great, it’s been high energy, high competition, it’s been intense and we’ve been getting after it,” Gonzaga forward Drew Timme told reporters before the team’s practice on Thursday. “It’s been fun. Obviously film’s not the most fun thing to watch, but it’s been great to learn from and I think it’s really just kind of re-amped and rejuiced us for this coming stretch.”

The hardest thing to watch during those film sessions?

“Just getting your butt kicked,” Timme said. “That’s plain and simple what happened.”

Monday gives the Zags an opportunity to respond as a team, but individually it should be a chance for Timme and Chet Holmgren to bounce back after Gonzaga’s heralded frontcourt tandem combined to score just 12 points on 5-of-17 from the field while accounting for six turnovers. It was the first time since a Dec. 18 game against Texas Tech and the second time this season they didn’t combine to score at least 20 points.

It bodes well for Monday that Timme and Holmgren, recent additions to the Wooden Award National Ballot, combined for 86 points in two regular-season games against USF and GU’s frontcourt could have an even greater advantage in the third meeting if Dons forward Yauhen Massalski sits out after sustaining a minor knee injury in Saturday’s quarterfinal against BYU.

USF coach Todd Golden said the Dons would err on the side of caution with the all-conference forward, indicating they’d prefer to have Massalski ready for the NCAA Tournament. Massalski and Holmgren are the only players in the WCC who’ve averaged a double-double in conference games.

“I think he banged knees, I think he’s going to be day-to-day,” Golden said. “We’ll talk to the trainers tonight and see how he’s feeling. The good thing is if we need to rest him on Monday to get ready for the (NCAA) tournament, we’ll rest him on Monday. We clinched tonight. It’s the bottom line.”

The Dons still haven’t shown they have the recipe to beat Gonzaga, but they’ve played the Bulldogs closer than most of their WCC competition, losing 78-62 in Spokane and 89-73 in San Francisco. In the first game, USF kept the Zags to a three-point lead at halftime. In the second, they trimmed a 20-point GU lead to 10 points late in the second half.

Film from Gonzaga’s loss to Saint Mary’s may not have been as palatable for Bulldog players, but USF players watched that game as a team and spotted a few holes they feel they can exploit come Monday evening.

“I think they just play at a fast pace, so limiting them in transition,” USF guard Jamaree Bouyea said. “We watched the Saint Mary’s game, we’ve seen some things we can probably adjust on from that game and I think just playing our game and hopefully coming out and making shots. Like I said, staying in our game and limiting them in transition for sure.”

Gonzaga spent a weeklong layoff preparing for the possibility of playing one of four teams, but knowing the likely scenario was a semifinal matchup with BYU or USF. Sophomore wing Julian Strawther said the Bulldogs had the benefit of knowing they’d face an aggressive, high-scoring guard in either matchup, be it BYU’s Alex Barcello or Bouyea and Khalil Shabazz of USF.

“They’re all really aggressive scorers, so that’s something we can focus on no matter what,” Strawther said. “Just going against a really offensive-minded point guard. Other than that, it’s just focusing on us and being us. That’s what we kind of got away from on Saturday was just not being ourselves, not playing Gonzaga basketball.

“When you watch that game, that just doesn’t resemble who we are, so that’s our main focus right now is just focusing on being us.”

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