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Gonzaga Basketball

‘Great for our conference.’ Location change adds unique dimension to Gonzaga-San Francisco matchup

The Gonzaga Bulldogs practice before the Bulldogs’ Sweet 16 matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday Mar 23, 2022, at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

SAN FRANCISCO – Chris Gerlufsen spent considerable time weighing the pros and cons of leaving San Francisco’s hostile arena on the Hilltop for one of the marquee games on the Dons’ home West Coast Conference calendar.

Even after the details were finalized – Gonzaga and USF would move their Feb. 29 game to the Chase Center – the Dons’ coach couldn’t say for certain it was the right call.

“It’s a good question,” Gerflufsen said at WCC Media Day in October. “Ask me after the game.”

The pros of playing the reigning WCC champions at the 18,000-seat Chase Center, as opposed to War Memorial Gym, an older building that normally crams in 3,500 passionate USF fans for the Dons’ annual date with the Bulldogs?

More exposure for Gerlufsen’s program, potentially a few unforeseen name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities and another chance for USF players to experience one of the NBA’s premier venues.

As for the cons of playing at the Golden State Warriors’ downtown arena?

Gonzaga’s fanbase extends well outside the lines of Spokane County, and the Pacific Northwest for that matter, so it’s not hard to imagine the number of navy and red shirts equaling, or outnumbering, the green and gold in the crowd for Thursday’s game .

“I’ve been going back and forth with our new athletic director for probably the past year on this and the more I considered it, the more I thought about it, I thought it was a great chance for us,” Gerlufsen said. “Just for our program to be seen on a different level.”

When the schools finalized the move in September, it would’ve been hard to know USF and Gonzaga would still be vying for top-two seeds at the WCC Tournament, or that the Dons would have compiled a 14-1 record at their home arena 4 miles away on USF’s campus, with their lone setback coming against No. 17 Saint Mary’s.

“I will probably miss playing at War Memorial,” Gerlufsen said. “It’s a great homecourt advantage, but it’s also another chance for our players to play on an NBA court in an NBA arena.”

A USF official told The Spokesman-Review that 5,260 tickets had been sold as of Wednesday afternoon and the school expects that number to push 6,000 by tipoff. USF allocated a specific number of tickets to its season ticket holders and reserved 1,200 seats for students – all of which have been accounted for.

Ticketmaster.com still had hundreds of seats available, at various price levels, on Wednesday afternoon with the cheapest ticket going for $47.50. Tickets are only available in the 100 level, suggesting that the Chase Center is closing off its upper concourse for Thursday’s WCC game.

“Hopefully, we’ll limit the number of tickets sold to Gonzaga fans,” Gerlufsen said. “I think it’s great for our conference, it’s going to put our conference in a different light, on a national stage. So I’m good with it.”

There probably wasn’t much opposition from Gonzaga’s side, either.

Although Thursday’s game could have more of a neutral-site feel, it still counts as a road game, and therefore a Quad 1 opportunity, for the Bulldogs. USF’s nonconference game against Minnesota at Chase Center earlier this season, a 76-58 win for the Dons in front of 3,682 fans, was classified as a neutral-site game, but only because a third party controlled the event. That won’t be the case on Thursday, with USF controlling its WCC game with Gonzaga, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

As long as the Dons, No. 56 in NET, don’t fall below No. 75 in the rankings, Thursday’s game will count toward Gonzaga’s Quad 1 record.

Few, who’s won 27 consecutive games against USF in Spokane, San Francisco and Las Vegas during the WCC Tournament, hadn’t given much consideration to the location change.

“I haven’t really thought much about it, quite frankly,” Few said. “We know it’s going to be a hard game no matter where it’s at. It’s going to be a really hard game. Hopefully, their fans down there will support, come out and be a great crowd. It usually is when we play them.”

Over the past two decades, the Zags have played in a handful of NBA arenas, primarily for marquee nonconference matchups and NCAA Tournament game. They’re 0-1 at the Chase Center, which opened in 2019, losing to Arkansas 74-68 in the Sweet 16 of the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Thursday will mark USF’s fourth game at the Chase Center over the past three seasons and fifth since the building opened. The Dons are 3-1 at the Warriors’ arena, beating Princeton, Davidson and Minnesota while losing to Utah State.

“We’re treating it as a home-court game,” Gerlufsen told The San Francisco Chronicle after losing at Saint Mary’s on Feb. 20. “… We’re looking at it to put our league and our program in a different light. It looks different when you’re playing a national-TV game at the Chase Center, where the Warriors play. Hopefully, it can be an event for the city, and we can turn this into a thing that has the opportunity to grow.

I initially probably did not like the idea, but the more I thought about it, I thought (that) sometimes you’ve got to think outside the box and try something to try to elevate your program – and that’s what we’re trying to do.”