Gonzaga-Baylor Preview

Published Dec. 17, 2010 5:48 p.m. EST

Baylor started this year ranked behind Gonzaga in the preseason poll but has climbed into the top 10 for the first time in school history thanks to some impressive wins and a favorable schedule.

The Bulldogs are no longer ranked, as they've struggled to navigate through a brutal schedule.

The ninth-ranked Bears, off to their best start in a decade, play their first game away from campus Saturday in Dallas against a Gonzaga team facing its fifth Top 25 opponent of the season.

Baylor (7-0) hasn't been challenged much since opening the year No. 16, winning by an average of 24.8 points. The competition hasn't been the stiffest, however, with the Bears beating the likes of Grambling State, Prairie View A&M and Bethune-Cookman. A mediocre Arizona State team is the only opponent Baylor has faced from one of the six power conferences.


While the Bears have enjoyed beating up on lesser opponents, Gonzaga (5-5), which opened at No. 12, has seemingly faced tough teams each time out.

The Bulldogs' five losses have come to sixth-ranked Kansas State, No. 11 San Diego State, 12th-ranked Illinois, No. 24 Notre Dame and Washington State, which is currently receiving votes in the poll. The combined record of those teams is 46-4.

"It's been such a tough schedule," said Steven Gray, Gonzaga's lone senior. "I don't know what people were expecting from this squad going in."

The Bulldogs finally caught a break with the schedule Thursday when they faced Lewis-Clark State, handing the NAIA Division I team a 103-61 loss to snap a three-game skid. Sophomore Elias Harris led the way with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting, while freshman Mathis Monninghoff hit 5 of 6 shots from 3-point range for a season-high 15 points as Gonzaga shot a season-best 60.7 percent.

"We understand that we're better than our record shows," said Gray, who is averaging a team-high 16.8 points. "We understand that we've been playing all these big-time schools and big-time teams. It's going to pay off in the long run."

The difficult schedule might help Gonzaga later when it opens West Coast Conference play, but it figures to be in for another tough time against Baylor.

The Bears, off to their best start since the 2000-01 team opened 12-0, are first in the nation in scoring defense at 51.9 points, tied for third in rebounding differential at 13.3 per game and fourth in field goal defense at 35.5 percent. They're also led by one of the top scorers in the nation in LaceDarius Dunn.

Since being suspended for the first three games, Dunn is averaging 23.0 points on 20-of-39 shooting from 3-point range. The senior had 24 points in Wednesday's 83-39 win over Bethune-Cookman.

Baylor got off to a bit of a sluggish start in that contest, but that could be attributed to the team playing its first game since a 68-54 victory over the Sun Devils 13 days earlier.

"It has been a while since we played and you could tell," Dunn said. "But it was fun to get out there and playing against Bethune-Cookman and just getting back into the flow of things. Now we got to get focused on Gonzaga."

This will be the first meeting between these schools since the Bulldogs' 78-69 victory in 2006 at Spokane, Wash. Gonzaga also won the first meeting by 30 points in 1991.