Gonzaga has never beaten Memphis in Spokane, though until now it didn’t have the chance to do so at it’s rowdy on-campus arena.
Looking for a 15th consecutive victory, the No. 3 Bulldogs face the Tigers on Saturday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center, where the hosts haven’t lost in over two years.
Gonzaga (21-1) has dropped six of seven in this series, including two straight since winning at the FedEx Forum in February 2010. All three Bulldogs losses in Washington came at nearby Spokane Arena, where the Tigers (13-7) last visited in 2010-11.
Having lost four of its top six scorers from last season’s 24-win team, Memphis expects a much greater challenge in its first trip to McCarthey, where Gonzaga is 145-8 and last lost 85-74 to then-No. 13 Illinois on Dec. 8, 2012.
"We are looking for the place to be packed," Memphis forward Shaq Goodwin said. "I heard the gym is crazy."
The Bulldogs extended their nation-best overall home winning streak to 37 with Thursday’s 64-46 win over Portland. The country’s top shooting team at 52.7 percent, Gonzaga had a 40.7 mark but compensated by making a 21-2 run midway through the second half and holding the Pilots to 29.5 percent shooting on the night.
Gonzaga has allowed an average of 52.0 points on 31.8 percent shooting in the last four games.
"We’ve had games where the defense has won it for us," coach Mark Few said.
Memphis overcame 34.5 percent shooting by outrebounding the Bulldogs 44-28, outscoring them 17-9 in second-chance points and holding them to 2 of 16 from 3-point range in last season’s 60-54 home win when both teams were ranked.
The Tigers understand they’re facing an improved and deeper Gonzaga squad.
"They are a top-five team with one of the best coaches to coach the game," said Goodwin, who had 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in last season’s meeting. "With their RPI and all of that stuff that comes into play with this game … we are just looking forward to getting there and playing on Saturday night."
Memphis struggled at times last season to contain Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, who scored 12 points and recorded three blocks. Perhaps Gonzaga’s most improved player this season, Karnowski (10.8 points per game) has averaged 13.8 points on 75.6 percent shooting in the last five home games.
The Tigers also must deal with 6-10 freshman Domantas Sabonis, who has averaged 11.3 points in six games and 10.0 rebounds in the last seven.
Both should provide a major test for 6-8 Memphis sophomore Austin Nichols, who is the only Tiger scoring in double-figures at 13.3 per game and also pulls down a team-leading 6.0 boards per contest.
Nichols, who had four points and five rebounds against Gonzaga last season, scored 21 of his 38 over the last two games in Wednesday’s 70-58 win over East Carolina.
Though Goodwin (7.8 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) fared well against Gonzaga last season, he’s been inconsistent in 2014-15 and scored eight or fewer points in eight of the previous 10 before leaving with an ankle injury in the opening seconds Wednesday.
Goodwin expects to be ready for this contest, and coach Josh Pastner feels this is the perfect opportunity for him to get back on track.
"He’s capable of being a big-time player," Pastner said. "There couldn’t be a better time for him to break out of it than this Saturday against Gonzaga."