MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)
The challenging nonconference matchup comes just before the No. 23 Zags and 24th-ranked Tigers hit stretch runs in their respective conferences.
"We're playing a great team in Gonzaga," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "We've had some great battles with them. It's going to be a heck of a game."
The two teams played each other six straight seasons from 2005-06 to 2010-11, with Memphis winning five of those games. During that stretch, the matchup was a much-needed test for the teams; Gonzaga was dominating the West Coast Conference while Memphis reigned over Conference USA at the time.
"They're the powerhouse in their conference, and we were the powerhouse in Conference USA," Memphis guard Cris Crawford said.
While Gonzaga (21-3) leads the West Coast Conference again this season, Memphis has left Conference USA. The Tigers (17-5) have a 7-3 league record in their first year in the American Athletic Conference.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few spoke highly of the Tigers' athleticism. Memphis' rotation boasts four senior guards: Joe Jackson, Crawford and hard-nosed defenders Geron Johnson and Michael Dixon. Memphis lately has concentrated on pushing the ball into the post in hopes of opening up its outside game.
"It's the type of athleticism, size, we don't get to see on a regular basis, and it's really difficult, impossible, for us to mimic in practice," Few said.
Gonzaga is led by guard Kevin Pangos, who averages 15.3 points and 4.1 assists. Center Sam Dower adds 14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Przemek Karnowski, who joins Dower in the frontcourt, averages 9.8 points and 7.5 rebounds while blocking almost two shots a game.
Jackson leads Memphis in scoring with an average of 14.6, plus 4.5 assists a game. Forward Shaq Goodwin averages 12.5 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. Crawford and Dixon connect from 3-point range at a 40-percent clip.
The game should have a spirited atmosphere, with the expected crowd pushing the capacity of the 18,400-seat FedExForum. Gonzaga played before 13,224 in a 72-62 loss at Kansas State on Dec. 21. Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center holds only 6,000, although the games are always sold out with a noisy student section.
"We are trying to get our guys ready and shock their system a little bit," Few said. "It's a real big-time home environment, 19,000 fans who are really into the game."
Adding to the festivities will be ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up at the FedExForum. Memphis will even resurrect some spirits of Tiger basketball past for the game. The 1973 Memphis squad that lost the national championship game to the Bill Walton-led UCLA Bruins will gather for a reunion.
Those won't be the only Tigers returning for the game. Drew Barham, a 6-foot-7 guard for the Zags, played two years at Memphis before graduating and transferring to Gonzaga. Barham has played in 24 games and averages 7.1 points a game, while connecting on 48 percent of his 3-pointers.
Barham said he grew up going to Memphis' games, though he acknowledged his playing career with the Tigers "really didn't work out."
"Being able to go back and play against them, I didn't imagine something like that could happen," Barham said.