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Gonzaga vs. San Diego game preview: Two road games to close out the season

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The Zags face the tough test of the San Diego defense on Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: San Diego at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The finish of the 2017-18 regular season is almost here, with the Zags closing out on the road. First up on Thursday: The San Diego Toreros.

It was a delightful Senior Night for the Zags on Saturday, specifically, because they did not lose for the first time in a few years. Thursday presents a special problem for Gonzaga. San Diego runs a nice defense, and the Zags only won by 10 at home earlier in the season. The 14-point spread on the Pepperdine win sounds nice, except for the fact that Pepperdine was able to hang for way too long.

The Toreros seemingly were the hot up and coming team in the WCC at the start of the conference season. They’ve lost a little bit of that luster, but this is still a dangerous squad. San Diego handled BYU rather nicely on Saturday in a 75-62 win. Can they try and pull off another upset over a bigger squad?

Meet the opponent

San Diego Toreros, 17-11, KenPom #131

If you want to look at what has gone right for San Diego in their wins, it usually follows the same following scenario. Step 1: completely choke off the three point threat. Step 2: score just enough points to win.

Against BYU on Saturday, the Toreros held the Cougars to just 3-of-22 from long range. This isn’t a squad that generates a lot of turnovers on defense or anything like that. They just make it really hard to find a good, clean look. San Diego’s defense is ranked No. 61 by KenPom, which is fantastic for a WCC school not named GU. Most impressively, they hold opponents to an eFG% of 44.9 percent, good for the sixth-best mark in the nation. Earlier in the year, if you want to look at why San Diego kept it so close is because the Zags could never settle for easy looks.

They have some solid scorers as well in the two Isaiah’s (Pinerio and Wright). Both are transfers from larger schools and have settled in nicely to the system in San Diego. Throw in the three point threats of Olin Carter III and Tyler Williams and San Diego is a legitimate trap game. Especially considering that the Toreros aren’t playing for anything except seeding in the WCC Tournament, the Zags will need to be on their A-game for this one.

What to watch out for

Let the offense flow.

The first time around against San Diego, the offense looked stilted and out of wack. The Toreros are a definitive reason for that, and the Zags need to be patient on the offensive end. Earlier this year, Gonzaga only amassed seven assists as a team against San Diego. That is as many as Josh Perkins personally had in the win over Pepperdine the other night. Gonzaga needs to play its half court offense—pass the ball well and look for the best shot. Settling for two point jumpers is the quickest way to shoot 41 percent from the floor—the mark Gonzaga hit earlier this year.

Attack the offensive glass.

Earlier this year, Johnathan Williams snared six offensive rebounds against San Diego. As a team, Gonzaga grabbed 14 in the game. Granted, when you shoot just 41 percent from the floor you open yourself up to many more rebounding opportunities. But those second-chance points are what could be the difference maker in this game. After the win over BYU, San Diego has to be feeling good, especially knowing that an upset will throw the whole WCC out of order.

Focus on the task at hand.

Thanks to Saint Mary’s inexplicably losing at San Francisco last week, the Zags are in full control of their destiny at the moment, and that seeding is important for the WCC Tournament. If the Zags finish the season as the No. 1 seed, they avoid playing the most likely No. 3 seed in BYU. Also, no one likes to give Saint Mary’s anything.