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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga returns home to take on Pacific team seeking first conference win

A few things have changed for Gonzaga since the Bulldogs dropped out of the national rankings for the first time in seven years after a 77-76 loss to Santa Clara on Jan. 11.

Generally speaking, most feel the same.

The Zags don’t have an AP ranking next to their name but still carry a sizable target on their back anytime they face an opponent from the West Coast Conference.

Three WCC programs have a win over Gonzaga during the past 12 months, but five others haven’t done so since at least 2014.

A struggling group from Pacific will be the next team to get a crack. The Tigers (6-21, 0-12) will be searching for their first win over the Bulldogs (19-6, 9-2) since joining the WCC in 2013, along with their first win against a Division I foe since Nov. 26 against Mississippi Valley State – the only team in college basketball yet to win a game this season.

Tipoff at the McCarthey Athletic Center is slated for 6 p.m. Former Gonzaga point guard and second-year Indiana Pacer Andrew Nembhard, on NBA All-Star break, will be in attendance, his younger brother Ryan – the Bulldogs’ point guard – confirmed Thursday after a 91-74 win at Loyola Marymount.

Pacific comes to Spokane with 18 straight losses to DI opponents and a NCAA NET ranking of No. 354, but the Tigers outperformed their win-loss record and played more like a top-100 NET team when they hosted Gonzaga in Stockton, California, on Jan. 27.

Coach Leonard Perry’s team led 35-34 at halftime and kept things interesting until the 4-minute mark in the second half. Judson Martindale’s 3-pointer trimmed Pacific’s deficit to 66-61, but the Zags followed with a 10-2 run that allowed them to close out an 82-73 victory.

“I think everybody, when they play Gonzaga, they give us their best shot,” Gonzaga guard Nolan Hickman said after the LMU game. “So I look forward to it, definitely just to play better than we played at Pacific.”

The Zags haven’t found too many easy outs in conference play and relied on their starters to play deep into the second half on Thursday to close out a severely shorthanded team from LMU.

With six scholarship players available and their two most important players on the bench nursing injuries, the Lions had Gonzaga on the ropes for approximately 34 minutes at Gersten Pavilion, leading 72-71 with 8:21 to play. Junior guard Will Johnston shook off his worst outing of the year – a scoreless game against GU in Spokane – to post a season-high 33 points on Thursday.

Given how GU’s season has played out , nobody would be surprised if Saturday’s game against Pacific played out in a similar fashion, even if the metrics and betting odds suggest otherwise.

“I expect a really, really hard-fought game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Pacific’s down to four opportunities in the regular season to grab its first WCC win, but the Tigers have been involved in five games decided by single digits, losing 92-88 in overtime at San Francisco; 82-73 against Gonzaga; 65-60 against Portland; 79-73 against San Francisco and 89-84 against San Diego.

“We expect a tough game,” Nembhard said. “Those guys are a pretty good team. Obviously, they gave us a really tough one at their place and we just expect that same type of thing. Guys that can make shots, quick guards, so we’re just going to have to be on top of everything to go and get it done.”

Perry’s team doesn’t have anyone averaging double figures in the scoring column.

Judson Martindale is the closest, at 9.7 points per game, and the senior guard has been their top 3-point shooter, making 40% of his attempts . Martindale connected on 2 of 3 in the last game against Gonzaga.

“I think we’ll definitely have some more confidence playing at home against them,” Gonzaga forward Graham Ike said.

“We know we can’t go tiptoeing into the game, especially the last game with what happened. So we’ve just got to come out firing, come out ready to go.”