No. 1 Gonzaga seeks sweep of San Francisco

With top-ranked Gonzaga knifing through the West Coast Conference to the tune of winning by 26.1 points a game, the Bulldogs’ greatest challenge might be answering the naysayers.

Gonzaga (26-0, 14-0 WCC) hosts San Francisco on Thursday night in Spokane, Wash. The Bulldogs defeated the Dons 95-80 last month by notching their 10th straight win in the series.

One WCC team that figured to have the best opportunity to upset Gonzaga — then-No. 20 St. Mary’s — lost at home 64-54 to coach Mark Few’s team last week. The victory provided an opportunity for Gonzaga to respond to some who question its legitimacy because of its dominance of the WCC.

“I want it bad, I want the national championship bad, to kind of put to rest all the naysayers,” said junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring (15.7 points per game) and assists (4.6).

History is not on Gonzaga’s side with that statement. Despite 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs have never advanced beyond the Elite Eight. Loyola Marymount fans reminded them last week that the 2013 team that reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 was ousted in the NCAAs in the Round of 32 by Wichita State.

“That’s all you hear, even out here (Loyola Marymount) fans were chanting, ‘Round of 32,'” Williams-Goss said. “You’ve got to get over the hump. I’d love to be part of the group to do it.”

Gonzaga has four regular-season games remaining, beginning with the matchup against San Francisco, in its attempt to become the first team to go undefeated in the regular season since Kentucky in 2015.

Williams-Goss scored 36 points in the first meeting with the Dons, making 12 of 15 shots from the field with 11 rebounds and six assists.

Jordan Rathino scored 20 points for San Francisco, which shot only 24.1 percent (7 of 29) from 3-point range in that game in which Gonzaga was ranked No. 5.

The Dons (18-9, 8-6) are coming off a 68-52 loss against visiting BYU a week after the Bulldogs handled the Cougars 85-75 at Provo, Utah.

First-year coach Kyle Smith’s team endured the worst shooting game of the season against BYU, missing 17 of its first 19 shots from the field and shooting 24.7 percent in the game.

“We couldn’t get anything to fall,” Smith said. “We got plenty of good looks but when you get off to a slow start like we did it sometimes snowballs on you.”

Thursday’s game marks the first time San Francisco has faced the No. 1 team in the nation since Jan. 18, 1979, when the Dons lost at top-ranked Notre Dame 86-69. San Francisco is 0-3 against top-ranked teams.

“They’re undefeated for a reason,” Smith said of Gonzaga. “They flex their muscle a little bit with their transition offense and ability to get the ball inside, whether it is off the drive or in the post.”

In addition to Williams-Goss’s production, California transfer Jordan Mathews, son of former San Francisco coach Phil Mathews, finished with 16 points in the previous meeting with the Dons.

Freshman reserve post player Killian Tillie (12 points) and senior center Przernek Karnowski (10) also scored in double figures for Gonzaga.