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Gonzaga Basketball

High stakes for Gonzaga, San Francisco in Chase Center matchup

SAN FRANCISCO – The intrigue surrounding Thursday’s Gonzaga-San Francisco game – and GU-Saint Mary’s on Saturday for that matter – is the impact the results could have on the West Coast Conference standings, WCC and NCAA tournaments and conference individual awards.

There’s a ton on the line as No. 23 Gonzaga closes the regular season.

Gonzaga (22-6, 12-2 WCC) can lock up the second seed and a bye into the WCC Tournament semifinals with a win over the Dons at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors.

GU has an outside shot at sharing the title with No. 17 Saint Mary’s (23-6, 14-0). The Gaels can clinch an outright championship with a road win over sixth-place Pepperdine on Thursday. The Zags have won or shared the past 11 regular-season titles since SMC’s solo championship in 2012.

Saint Mary’s is two wins from becoming the first WCC team other than Gonzaga to go unbeaten in conference since Pepperdine went 14-0 in 1992. GU has posted six unbeaten WCC records, most recently in 2021, in coach Mark Few’s 25 seasons.

Gonzaga, the last team in the NCAA Tournament in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s bracket, has strengthened its resume with a six-game winning streak. A pair of Quad 1 road wins this week would be huge for Gonzaga’s at-large aspirations.

“It’s going to be a battle. I think we all know that,” GU senior forward Anton Watson said of the Bay Area road trip. “It starts off with San Francisco, that’s the game in front of us so we have to put our hard hats on.”

Gonzaga defeated San Francisco 77-72 in Spokane last month. The Zags, who trailed by one at halftime, built a 13-point lead with 2:45 left, but numerous missed free throws allowed USF to make it a one-possession game in the final seconds.

Graham Ike had a team-high 22 points and five Zags scored in double figures. Jonathan Mogbo, San Francisco’s leading scorer at 14.9, was limited to eight points, and second-leading scorer Marcus Williams (14.1) had just three points before pouring in 16 in final 2:15 to spur a late rally.

“We had a big-time battle (in Saturday’s 94-81 win over Santa Clara that) took everything we had,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Thursday is going to be as physical and as intense (as SCU). San Francisco brings a real intensity and a real physicality. They’re playing great. Us and Saint Mary’s are the only teams that have been able to do anything with them.

“That’s going to be a huge challenge and then just a short prep after that and we have to go to Saint Mary’s. These guys have taken care of business to put ourselves back in position. We have to go out and perform.”

GU-USF features two of the nation’s top shooting teams. The Zags, averaging 88.5 points since junior forward Ben Gregg joined the starting unit 12 games ago, connect on 51.6% from the field, second nationally. The Dons rank fifth at 49.7%.

The Zags have a slight edge in field-goal percentage defense (40.3 versus 42.3) but the Dons are tied for 23rd at 65.3 points allowed per game. Gonzaga checks in at 96th at 69.1.

Gonzaga is No. 21 and USF is No. 56 in the NET rankings. The game will be at a neutral site, but it’s considered a Dons’ home game so it qualifies as Quad 1 for both teams (vs. top 75 NET on the road, vs. top 50 neutral, vs. top 30 home).

The Dons (22-7, 11-3) have dropped 28 straight in the series. They’re 7-1 since falling to the Zags, with the only setback a 70-66 loss to Saint Mary’s last week.

“Our team hasn’t had a lot of time together. I know what we were when we started, and I know what we are today,” San Francisco coach Chris Gerlufsen said after losing to the Gaels. “ We have made tremendous progress as a group. There’s so much potential left for our team.

“We’ve just got to figure it out. We’ve got to keep working and keep chipping. I firmly believe that we will be playing our best basketball when we go to Las Vegas, and that’s all you can really ask for.”