The Gonzaga Bulldogs need to bounce back against San Diego to keep their dreams of a potential at-large bid alive after losing to the BYU Cougars on Thursday. The WCC didn't do Gonzaga any favors giving it four games on the road to close out the season. The BYU game was hard enough, and winning on the road against San Diego isn't any easier. Tip-off is a late one, at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.
The Bulldogs went down early against BYU but weathered foul trouble from Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower to keep it a tie in Provo. But the defense faltered in the second half and the BYU offense came alive. Gonzaga missed out on a chance to outright claim the WCC, but more importantly it missed out on a chance to give the selection committee a solid win for the resume.
Meet the opponent
San Diego (15-14), KenPom #140, RPI #164
The San Diego offense is no different from when it was the first time Gonzaga barely squeaked by. Johnny Dee and Duda Sanadze score a boatload of points and Dennis Kramer holds down at forward pretty well. San Diego has had a pretty wild WCC season. At one point, the Toreros lost four-straight, most of the time by sizeable amounts. Other times (and most of the time), San Diego has reveled in low scoring, close contests. San Diego has played seven WCC games that have been decided by five or less points.
The Toreros keep it close by playing at a slow pace and forcing opponents to hop in on that miserable style of play. Case and point: Gonzaga averages close to 68 possessions per game this season. When the Bulldogs played against San Diego earlier this season, they had a mere 55 possessions.
This is the reason for San Diego's middling performance this year. The Toreros play hard-nosed defense without the offense to back it up. They are last in the division in points scored and down at the bottom of virtually every statistical category except for that one glaring spot -- three point percentage. On defense, everything looks a bit average. Opponents shoot 45 percent against them, but that still translates to just 66.8 points per game. A large part of that is the pace of the game San Diego plays. Billy Grier had to make a name for himself down in San Diego, so why not a totally different style of play?
What to watch out for
The offense struggled mightily against BYU, especially the backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell. But let's move beyond that. Tonight, the main thing to watch is how well Gonzaga is able to deal with the Toreros' slowed down pace. Gonzaga has traditionally done pretty well when relying on the halfcourt offense this year, but against San Diego, the Bulldogs were never able to jump out too much of a lead.
How the Bulldogs respond from the BYU loss will be interesting. In the four other losses this year, Gonzaga just played poorly. There were some things to fall back on against BYU -- tough environment, bad calls, streaky shooters -- but the fact of the matter is Gonzaga posted 0.9 points per possession. That is the third lowest total this season, with the only worse efforts being against Memphis and Santa Clara.
Gonzaga doesn't have the defensive prowess to grind out a game like that. If it is going to get slowed down, the Bulldogs need to make sure they are taking good shots, passing the ball well and freeing up the shooters. BYU confounded the Bulldogs a bit with its zone, and Billy Grier surely took notice. Most of all, this will be a close effort. Games against San Diego always are. Gonzaga can ill afford any more losses this season if it wants its at-large dreams to stay alive. One game at a time, once again, from here on out.