The Gonzaga Bulldogs hit the road to take on the Pacific Tigers for their first road game of the conference slate on Saturday, Dec. 31.
The Zags are coming off of a tidy 30-point victory over the Pepperdine Waves on Thursday. Przemek Karnowski and Nigel Williams-Goss led the Zags with 16 points apiece, and Gonzaga had five scorers in double-figures. The Zags gave up a few points from the outside, but otherwise held the Pepperdine offense to 0.85 points per possession.
Things didn’t go as well for Pacific in their first conference game of the season. The Tigers dropped an 80-76 game to the Portland Pilots at home. Anthony Townes scored 18 points, but the Tigers had no answer for Portland’s Alec Wintering, who finished the game with 26 points.
Meet the opponent
Pacific Tigers, 6-8, KenPom #224
The Pacific Tigers are led by junior forward Ray Bowles and senior guard T.J. Wallace. After that, the pickings start to get a bit slim, especially because of a recent injury bug that has made its way into the Tigers’ clubhouse. David Taylor hasn’t played for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle, Ilias Theodorou is out with a foot injury, and Sami Eleraky missed the game against Portland with an undisclosed injury. Add in forward Tonko Vuko, who rolled his ankle and was last seen on crutches on the sideline on Thursday.
The end result of all that action is a short bench for new head coach Damon Stoudamire. Only seven players saw meaningful minutes against Portland, but they made the most of it. They are going to need even more of that effort in a herculean way to even come close to the Zags tonight.
Pacific has a lot of issues, but the first and last of it starts with shot selection and scoring. The Tigers attempt a lot of field goals, but they don’t make too many of them, shooting just 41.1 percent as a team (good for No. 306 in the nation). They aren’t much better from long range (34.4 percent) or the charity stripe (68.4 percent).
The one thing they do rather well is rebound. The Tigers crash the defensive glass with intensity, and they are ranked No. 33 in the nation in total defensive rebounds. The Zags aren’t going to get a lot of second-chance points against the Tigers, but they should be able to use their height advantage to upset the rhythm down low.
What to watch out for
Continue hammering those rebounds.
One of the nice things about West Coast Conference play is it gives the Zags opportunities to fine-tune shortcomings. One of those is defensive rebounding, and for the first time in freaking forever, the Zags finally did a good job on the boards. Gonzaga held Pepperdine to just five offensive rebounds, and our big men were finally doing a bit of boxing out and maintaining positioning.
Things will be a bit harder against Pacific, theoretically. The Tigers are adept at sneaking away with those offensive boards, and the Zags need to demonstrate they can continue to be a dominant presence on the boards, especially considering the height advantage they own over most WCC teams.
Pound it down low.
The Zags went bonkers from long range against Pepperdine and attempted 27 three pointers. This is a squad that is sometimes susceptible to just launching up shots instead of trying to run a half court offense, and it showed against Pepperdine. Here is the spray chart: basically a ton of things directly under the hoop or something from far away and not much in between.
The Zags have a pretty large height advantage in the WCC, but it would also be nice to see a bit more of a half court offense against Pacific.
Prepare for some interesting defensive sets from Pacific.
Ken Pomeroy lists Pacific’s main defense as “inconclusive.” Coach Damon Stoudamire has tried out a lot of different things, and the problem is many of them haven’t worked. The Tigers can’t force a turnover to save their lives, teams regularly get to the free throw line against them, and there isn’t a threat of blocking down low. That said, the defensive rebounding is strong, and there is the potential to throw the Zags off their offensive rhythm.
Gonzaga should have no issue pushing past that, but the Zags have shown a tendency to quiet down for stretches and take a bit of time to adapt on the offensive end. If Pacific keeps the Zags off balance for long enough, the Tigers might have a chance.