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Gonzaga Basketball

Key matchup(s): Guards Boogie Ellis, Isaiah Collier lead USC

For Saturday’s game, we’re changing it from a key matchup to key matchups.

That’s due to USC’s Boogie Ellis and Isaiah Collier, a talented tandem that ranks among the top backcourts in the nation.

Ellis is in his third season with the Trojans after playing two years at Memphis. He has been a starter since he arrived in Los Angeles and his scoring average has climbed from 12.5 to 17.3 last year to a team-leading 21.5 in his fifth season of eligibility.

The 6-foot-3 native of San Diego’s shooting stats are on the rise, too. He’s hitting 47.7% from the field, easily the highest in his career, and 48% on 3-pointers (previous best was 38.6%).

Ellis’ assists numbers are down slightly, but that’s because of Collier’s playmaking abilities. The 6-5, 210-pound Collier was the No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class. He averages 17.7 points and a team-high 4.3 assists per game.

Collier has been turnover-prone (4.9 per game), but he’s a strong downhill driver to the rim. He leads the team in free throws attempted (43) and made (34), but he’s also an effective 3-point shooter at 42.1% (8 of 19).

Both come in on a roll. Ellis hit eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points while Collier chipped in 15 points and six assists in a 106-78 rout over Eastern Washington on Wednesday.

The USC pair will be a challenge for Gonzaga starting guards Ryan Nembhard (6-0) and Nolan Hickman (6-2).

Both have experience against high-level backcourts. Nembhard played his first two seasons with Creighton in the Big East and faced quality guards in three games last week at the Maui Invitational. Hickman was GU’s point guard a year ago when GU matched up against talented guards from Michigan State, Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, Purdue, Xavier and Baylor, as well as several West Coast Conference programs.

“They’re tough guards, two good players that like to score the ball,” Nembhard said. “We’ve got good guards, over there they’ve got good guards. It’ll probably be a good battle, good test for us.”

The flip side is Ellis and Collier, who has been in foul trouble in several games, will have to work on the defensive end against Nembhard and Hickman, who combine for 26.5 points per game.

The Zags also could throw a defensive wrinkle at USC’s guards, using a bigger defender (6-6 Dusty Stromer or even 6-8 Anton Watson) at times, depending on the other matchups on the floor.