Cal Poly-Gonzaga Preview

Gonzaga is going three weeks without playing on its home court. That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs, particularly Gary Bell Jr., won’t feel at home Saturday night.

Bell, playing a short drive from where he grew up, and fellow four-year starter Kevin Pangos look to become the first Gonzaga players to go 4-0 at KeyArena in a matchup with Cal Poly.

This is the eighth-ranked Bulldogs’ final tuneup before opening West Coast Conference play with three straight road games, beginning next Saturday at BYU. Gonzaga (10-1) doesn’t play in Spokane again until Jan. 8 versus San Francisco.

Every December since 2003, the Bulldogs have traveled across the state to play a non-conference foe in the ‘Battle for Seattle’ at KeyArena, about 20 miles north of Bell’s hometown of Kent, Washington. The program had lost four of five in the annual game before Bell and Pangos arrived, and they’ve since helped Gonzaga go unbeaten at KeyArena with wins over Arizona, Kansas State and South Alabama.

Bell had a team-high 20 points in last season’s 68-59 victory over South Alabama.

"I like it a lot, going home," Bell said. "Hopefully I can end my career 4-0 going to Seattle. That’s all we’re going over there for is to get a win."

He’s had a reduced role offensively this season, averaging 9.2 points as transfers Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley have led the team in scoring, but Bell remains a vital leadership piece.

"Obviously it’s great for Gary (going home), he’s just been such a huge part of this program," coach Mark Few said. "I want us to really be able to go over there and play great, not only for ourselves but for him."

Like Bell, Pangos has seen a drop in scoring this season with 10.4 points per game as Wiltjer and Wesley have gotten more comfortable.

Wiltjer, the former Kentucky forward, has pushed his team-leading average to 17.5 points after surpassing 20 in three consecutive games. The reigning WCC player of the week has shot 71.1 percent from the field in that span while hitting 8 of 10 from 3-point range.

Wesley, who played the past three seasons at Southern California, had back-to-back 20-point games before scoring four Monday in a 94-54 home win over Texas Southern. He played a season-low 22 minutes and had only three field-goal attempts.

"We’re excited to get to go to Seattle to play," Wesley said. "… Just wanna go over there with the same mentality we’ve had all season and leave with a W."

The Bulldogs have posted three straight double-digit wins since losing to third-ranked Arizona in overtime, and they should have another easy time in their first meeting with Cal Poly (5-4).

While the Mustangs are averaging 63.0 points and shooting 38.9 percent, Gonzaga is among the national leaders with 85.5 points per game and 54.2 percent shooting.

"I think they’re a Final Four team," Cal Poly coach Joe Callero said. "I don’t know that there’s many teams out there that have the length and the strength that Gonzaga has."

Three of the Bulldogs’ top five scorers are at least 6-foot-10, whereas only one of the Mustangs’ top eight is taller than 6-7. That player is Brian Bennett, who had season highs of 19 points and nine rebounds in a 60-58 win over Northeastern on Wednesday.

David Nwaba has averaged 17.5 points in the past four games for Cal Poly, which hasn’t played a ranked team since losing 64-37 to Wichita State in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament.