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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s 15-game winning streak against Pac-12 on line against USC

Gonzaga’s long list of active streaks often focuses on consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Sweet 16s and West Coast Conference titles.

There’s another that hasn’t received nearly as much attention, but it’s impressive and timely, with the Zags facing USC on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Legends of Basketball Las Vegas Invitational at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Washington tangles with Colorado State in the opener at 4.

Gonzaga has won 15 in a row against Pac-12 competition – nine versus ranked foes – since falling to UCLA 71-66 at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Dec. 12, 2015. The Zags have won 20 of their past 23 against the Pac-12 and they’re 45-15 against the conference under head coach Mark Few.

Broken down, the 15-game streak includes five victories over Washington, four over UCLA, three over Arizona and one against Utah, Oregon and USC. The win over the Trojans and eventual lottery pick Evan Mobley was an 85-66 rout that sent Gonzaga to the 2021 Final Four.

The Trojans (5-2) boast one of the best backcourts in the country with fifth-year senior Boogie Ellis, who reportedly considered Gonzaga when he transferred from Memphis to USC, and Isaiah Collier, the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class and a projected lottery pick.

The pair combine for nearly 40 points per game, the highest-scoring backcourt tandem in Division I power conferences.

No. 11 Gonzaga (5-1) counters with guards Ryan Nembhard (13 points, 5.3 assists) and Nolan Hickman (13.5 points). Both guards rarely leave the court in close games, which figures to be the case against USC. Ellis paces the Trojans at 34 minutes per game with Collier just under 30.

Ellis and Collier steer the offense, but the Trojans have talent elsewhere in 6-foot-6 junior guard Kobe Johnson (14.2 points, 4.8 rebounds), 6-11 redshirt senior Joshua Morgan (6.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 20 blocks), 7-1 sophomore Vincent Iwuchukwu (6.4 points, 5.0 boards), 6-5 sophomore Oziyah Sellers (6.1 points) and Washington State transfer wing DJ Rodman (5.8 points, 4.0 rebounds).

“They have a bunch of guys that can (make plays on their own),” Zags coach Mark Few said. “Obviously, Boogie and Collier the freshman is quite a talent, but they’ve got some great experience coming back. It’ll be a huge challenge. That’s a really talented basketball team.”

The Trojans, picked second behind Arizona in the Pac-12 preseason poll, dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 following a 72-70 loss to Oklahoma last Friday. USC (5-2) got back on track with a 106-78 rout over Eastern Washington on Wednesday. The Trojans made 57% of their shots, including 50% (12 of 24) on 3-pointers.

USC received good news Thursday when freshman guard Bronny James, son of LeBron James, was cleared to return to practice next week after suffering cardiac arrest at a July workout.

GU freshman Dusty Stromer helped Notre Dame High go 4-0 against James and Sierra Canyon last season. James played in three of the four games.

“I’m pretty good friends with him,” Stromer said of James Tuesday night after scoring 10 points in an 81-65 win over Cal State Bakersfield. “Obviously, he moved to the same area I’m from. We played four times my senior year, so it’ll be good to see him again in Vegas.”

Stromer also knows Sellers, who was a standout at Southern California Academy before joining the Trojans last season.

Gonzaga knocked off UCLA 69-65 in the final game of the Maui Invitational in Honolulu, but several players and coaches caught a bug on the flight home and were under the weather in Tuesday’s win over Cal State Bakersfield. GU, which visits Washington on Dec. 9, went 7 minutes without a field goal, but maintained a comfortable lead by holding the Roadrunners without a field goal for 8:32.

“We just have to keep working on our offense,” Nembhard said. “I think our defense is at a good place right now, but we have to figure out sometimes what we’re doing offensively, flow to our next actions and keep the ball moving, get to our next actions quicker so things can flow instead of stuff being so stagnant.

“It’s a work in progress and coach (Few) has been on us in practice for all that stuff. We’ll figure it out.”