Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Pacific has already upended one West Coast Conference powerhouse, can the Zags stop the Tigers?
Gonzaga and Pacific haven't played since 1976 but that frequency is going to increase exponentially starting next season when the Tigers join the West Coast Conference. Tonight, we get a preview of what we can expect when that happens as the two teams square off in a solid non-conference battle. While Gonzaga enters the game as major favorites, the Tigers won't be intimidated. About a week ago, Pacific took down soon to be rival Saint Mary's and enters the game with a 3-3 record. Aside from their most recent loss to Cal, Pacific has been in every game as their other two losses were by a combined seven points vs. Fresno State and Oral Roberts.
The Tigers are likely to play extremely hard tonight because it is head coach Bob Thomason's only taste of playing Gonzaga. While the Tigers will make their way into the WCC, they are doing so without their 24 year head coach. Thomason will retire following this season and his players want to take the record setting coach out in a big way. Leading the way for Thomason is point guard Lorenzo McCloud. The senior point guard is averaging 12 points per game and about 3.5 assists. The only other Tiger in double figures is junior forward Ross Rivera. Rivera is thought of by many as Pacific's best player. He is a versatile, yet undersized, forward and is just as deadly from beyond the arc as he is in the post.
What stands out about Pacific is their depth. Ten players are averaging twelve or more minutes per game and no player is averaging more than 28 minutes per game which is pretty remarkable. While depth is great, anytime you rely on that many contributors, consistency is the key and Pacific is still waiting to see what the true potential of this team is. Against Saint Mary's, the executed brilliantly as four tigers (led by Rivera and McCloud) really dominated the action. As they enter the Kennel, it will be intriguing to see if those two can bounce back from the Cal drubbing and if they can handle Gonzaga's depth, particularly in the front court. Their bigs will be tested in a major way by Harris, Karnowski, Olynyk, and Dower.
In the end, I expect Pacific to come out and play very well early but by early second half, Gonzaga should really begin to impose their will on the Tigers. Look for Harris and company to have their way with Pacific as Gonzaga moves to 8-0 with a 77-61 win victory.