I'm going to skip how much I hate when the Gonzaga Bulldogs play at the University of San Francisco because I've gone into detail about it before. Luckily, the Bulldogs played Santa Clara on Wednesday, because the horrendous offensive effort they put out would've resulted in a loss and then some against the Dons.
Every game from here on out is a big game for the Zags, but the games against the Dons are the biggest. Gonzaga lost three in a row in San Francisco before finally snapping the streak last season. This year, it all seems prime for the Bulldogs to pull out another win over San Francisco. The Dons lost guard Cody Doolin to some potentially dubious circumstances, but the team has easily bounced back to compete in the WCC.
In the game in Spokane earlier this year, the Bulldogs had no issues handling the Dons. Five players scored in double figures and Gonzaga was ahead enough that Mark Few felt comfortable playing both Ryan Edwards and Angel Nunez for solid minutes. They also pasted the Dons without Sam Dower or Gary Bell.
But I said the same thing about Santa Clara earlier this week, and look how that game ended up. I'm running out of feet this season to put in my mouth.
Meet the opponent
San Francisco Dons (14-8), Kenpom #116, RPI #88
I don't want to short sell the Dons or anything, but here is the thing -- they haven't beaten anyone in the WCC. Like Gonzaga in this absolutely terrible WCC scheduling this year, the Dons also have only three home games remaining. Before I rant too much, however, I'm going to stop. Because if any team will randomly pull a win out of its ass and have their students charge the court for the third time in four years, it is the god damn Dons (not bitter).
San Francisco is currently riding a three game winning streak. It started like all streaks start -- with a two-point win over San Diego (random aside: USD has six conference games decided by four points or less). They got things going with more authoritative wins over Santa Clara and Portland. Cole Dickerson dropped 28 on Santa Clara and followed it up with 21 more over Portland.
Rex Walters has assembled an offensively potent team. The Dons average 77.7 points per game, good for 49th in the nation. They have a great field goal percentage and three point percentage. In shorter terms, out of all the teams in the WCC that can seemingly keep up with Gonzaga, San Francisco is one of them.
What to watch out for
In their matchup earlier this year, the Dons had a very similar game the Bulldogs had on Wednesday night. They only scored 41 points and shot just 25.5 percent. Part of it was that the Gonzaga defense played with a fervor and resolve, and part of it was that San Francisco couldn't buy any shots to save their lives. They even managed to go 7-of-17 from the free throw line. Don't expect things to be like that this time around.
The Bulldogs will need Kevin Pangos in this one. He has been pretty abysmal on the road in conference play this year. As I detailed in a post earlier, Pangos has some serious road and home splits going. Those splits manage to be even more severe in conference play. For your own visual horror, here they are.
Those splits are torrid. Granted, on his two most recent road games Kevin Pangos was the worst shooter on the court at all times. There isn't a lot of room for error with Gonzaga on a potential at-large bid, and any defeat in WCC play is going to be pretty gnarly black eye. If Pangos doesn't pick it up very much, that black eye will happen.
Sam Dower has been fantastic in WCC play and has pretty much been the best Gonzaga player in every game he has played in. His shot, of course, was required to exit the Leavey Center on Wednesday with a win.
With Gonzaga recently having such a difficult time making it out of San Francisco with a win, another big night of Sam Dower power will make it a much easier escape for the Zags. I'm not really thrilled by the prospect of this game. As someone that has attended the War Memorial Gymnasium, it is a packed, loud and tiny court to play on. It has all of the great qualities that the old Kennel did. If the Zags had taken care of business I wouldn't be panicked. But the nightmare of San Francisco persists throughout my dreams, so I'm not too excited.