San Diego hosts undefeated, No. 1 Gonzaga Thursday night
Gonzaga enters Thursday night’s game at San Diego as the top-ranked team in the nation with a 28-0 record while the struggling Toreros are just elated to be coming off a double-overtime win at Santa Clara on Saturday.
After losing 79-43 to Gonzaga (16-0 in the West Coast Conference) last month in Spokane, Wash., San Diego (12-16, 5-11) is looking for any confidence boost it can get. The game at the Jenny Craig Pavilion (capacity 5,100) is sold out, only the 15th time that has happened since the arena opened in the 2000-01 season.
“When you play a team like (Gonzaga), you have to be clicking on all cylinders and you have to execute the game plan to a ‘T’ and you have to make shots,” San Diego coach Lamont Smith said. “We didn’t do any of (that) and they took it to us (in Spokane). Hopefully we learned and hopefully we can get better and turn the page.”
The gritty win at Santa Clara could at least help the Toreros’ psyche. Sophomore guard Tyler Williams connected on a 17-foot jumper from the right elbow to give San Diego the victory. It snapped a five-game losing streak and also avenged San Diego’s home loss to the Broncos by two points.
“We’ve been close in these types of games this season and it was great to get the win,” Smith said. “We just stayed the course and kept to our game plan.”
The game plan will be put to the ultimate test against Gonzaga, which dominated San Diego with its size advantage on the frontcourt.
Gonzaga outscored San Diego 50-16 in points in the paint in the previous matchup. The Toreros also had 15 turnovers that led to 19 points for the Bulldogs.
Johnathan Williams had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Nigel Williams-Goss led the Bulldogs with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting.
The victory on Jan. 26 put Gonzaga atop the rankings because No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Kansas lost that same day. The Bulldogs have taken care of business since that day to maintain the loftiest ranking.
The Bulldogs are beating opponents by an average of 23.7 points, tops in the nation. They are winning WCC games by 26.3 points. Gonzaga has won 21 straight games by double digits.
“We haven’t taken a night off,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That stands out.”
The Bulldogs are faced with that kind of challenge again in the WCC with San Diego entering the game with a losing record.
Gonzaga has used its defense, interior size with Williams, 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowsky and 7-footer Przemek Karnowski and high-quality guard play from Williams-Goss to overcome any letdowns.
San Diego counters with a starting lineup that has no player taller than 6-7. Brett Bailey (a Spokane native who is averaging 15.9 points a game), Olin Carter III (15.2) and Cameron Neubauer (11.0) are the top three scorers for the Toreros. There aren’t many scoring resources behind that trio.
In WCC games, the Toreros are only averaging 59.9 points a game. Gonzaga, by contrast, is averaging 86.