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Bill Grier and the Toreros gave Gonzaga a huge test in their first matchup, does USD have what it takes to pull the upset?
Since their loss to Butler is mid-January, the Zags have played nine times and won each contest. In those nine games, they have only won by less than ten points once - at the University of San Diego. The Bulldogs narrowly escaped the Toreros by a score of 65-63 in early February. Escaped is a good description because this was a tightly contested game throughout that San Diego actually led for a good portion in the second half. The Zags finished on a 12-6 run to steal the win from former Gonzaga assistant Bill Grier and keep all their lofty goals alive.
Now a 13-15 ballclub, the Toreros make their return trip to Spokane looking to finish what they started on their home court. While the Zags didn't supply a great effort in the first contest, the Toreros were extremely impressive in their approach to the game. They were the aggressor throughout the game and never backed down even though they were the physically outmatched on paper. San Diego outrebounded Gonzaga 35-29 and pulled down 14 offensive rebounds compared to 10 for the Zags. In the end, it was Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris that came up big down the stretch to salvage the victory for Gonzaga. David Stockton also added a huge runner and time wound down.
After Gonzaga's incredible performance on Wednesday, it is hard to fathom USD coming in and pushing the Zags around like they did in San Diego. I will be actively watching how Gonzaga's guards play in this one as both Kevin Pangos and (mostly) Gary Bell Jr. have continued to improve throughout the year. Johnny Dee scorched the Zags in their first matchup but I expect GU's perimeter defense to really squeeze USD's talented backcourt duo and limit their opportunities. On the flip side, it would be great to see Gary Bell continue to play well offensively and get hot from the perimeter. This team reached another level when Pangos and Bell match the production that Harris and Olynyk put out.
I thought the Santa Clara game would be close so maybe I should just shut up for now but I will go on record to say that I think Saturday's game will be much more contested (bold, I know). Bill Grier is obviously very aware of Mark Few's tendencies as he showed in the first matchup and while I don't expect Gonzaga fans to be fretting down the stretch as they were in February, I don't see this one being a laugher. In the end, I see a 10-14 point win for the good guys led by a big perimeter shooting night from Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos. With the win, the Zags will have captured at least a share of the regular season WCC title.