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Gonzaga vs. San Francisco: Zags head to the little house of horrors

Out of any road game in the WCC, the War Memorial Gymnasium gives the Zags the fits.

NCAA Basketball: Portland at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

There is one school that is always a trap game on the conference calendar, and that is the University of San Francisco Dons. Bad memories die a slow and painful death, and for many Gonzaga fans, the memories of three consecutive years of losing at the War Memorial Gymnasium still ring a bit too true in their minds. Granted, those years came a while ago, but it’s as if they happened yesterday.

Chances are, that loss won’t happen tomorrow. The Zags are coming off of another mondo effort, topping the Portland Pilots by nearly 50 points in a 103-57 win on Thursday. Silas Melson scored a career-high 23 points, hitting an absurd 7-of-12 from long range. Rui Hachimura continued his terror of conference foes, adding 20 points.

The Dons, on the other hand, are reeling form an unbelievably cruel loss to LMU on Thursday. San Francisco scored the seemingly winning points on a lay up by Souley Boum (assisted by the coolest named in the WCC Frankie Ferrari) with three seconds left to take a 65-64 lead. Boum fouled Jeffery McClendon with one second left, and McClendon calmly drained all three free throws to pull off a LMU upset, 67-65.

Meet the opponent

San Francisco Dons, 10-8, KenPom #134

Those three nerve-racking losses at the War Memorial Gymnasium? They occurred in years 2010-2012, so it has been a few years. But War Memorial is an incredibly difficult arena to play in because it is just so danged small. It gets loud in there, and the San Francisco students bring the noise when Gonzaga rolls into town. After that loss on Thursday, they will be looking for blood.

The biggest reason this is a potential trap game is because of what comes next for the Zags—Saint Mary’s. That, combined with the fact that San Francisco is an actual capable defense, and Gonzaga will have its work cut out for it. Of the Zags five WCC opponents so far, Pacific has the highest rated defense at No. 246 according to Ken Pomeroy. The Dons sit at No. 56. That is quite the drastic difference.

San Francisco is a really good defensive rebounding team, and they do a good job with their interior defense. This isn’t necessarily stats created against poor teams either. San Francisco owns a win over Nevada (holders of the No. 10 ranked offense) on the year as a nice feather in the cap.

The question for the Dons is where the offense comes from, and the answer is not from too many places. San Francisco has three players averaging double-digit points, but their shooting isn’t necessarily hitting the mark. This is a team that relies heavily on hucking up three pointers. The Dons have taken the 30th most three pointers in the nation, but only hit the 99th most. Both Jordan Ratinho and Chase Foster average more than five attempts per game, and both are shooting around 36 percent from long range. The Dons are not a good shooting team, but volume matters. If the game stays close because of the defense, San Francisco might be able to eke out an upset here.

What to watch out for

The Zags are actually playing semi-good competition.

This will be one of the key factors. Gonzaga is absolutely rolling WCC competition. The Zags have topped 100 points in two of their past five games and have beaten their hapless conference opponents by approximately 900 points per game. The issue with that is the Zags have also opened conference play with the five worst opponents in the league. Saint Mary’s and BYU are at the top, and San Francisco and San Diego represent that middle ground—the kind that is ripe for the upset. If this game is a 50 point blowout, maybe we can take something away from the previous five games. But it probably won’t be, and it will be interesting to see how the Zags perform.

Crash the offensive glass until the backboard is destroyed.

The Dons are ranked No. 52 in the league in defensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom, and it is a complete team effort. This is a squad who rebound as a team, and the Zags will need those offensive rebounds to create the second chances. Luckily, the Zags are a really good offensive rebounding team, but the big boost has been the steady play of Hachimura. Hachimura is tied for second on the team in OR% with Johnathan Williams at 9.8 (Jacob Larsen is first at 14.7). If the Zags attack the boards, get 18 offensive ones like they did in Portland, this game shouldn’t even be close.