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Gonzaga vs. Pacific game preview: Zags look to build momentum

The Pacific Tigers are suddenly a good team in the WCC.

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

If I were to write at the beginning of the year that the Pacific Tigers would be one of the most improved teams in the West Coast Conference, I would hope you would all stage a coup and wrest this site from my clearly delusional hands.

Yet, here we stand, with new head coach Damon Stoudamire’s team tied for third in conference play with the BYU Cougars. This isn’t a fluke either. Since Gonzaga opened conference play against Pacific with a decisive 33 point victory, the Tigers have rattled off multiple good wins—including wins over BYU and San Diego, and a couple of good losses as well to Saint Mary’s and San Francisco by a combined five points.

Meet the opponent

Pacific Tigers, 12-13, KenPom #158

One of the major things Pacific has done since starting conference play is increasing the intensity they attack the rim. During non-conference play, the Tigers averaged just 11.5 free throw attempts per game. Through conference play, the Tigers bumped that number to nearly 20 attempts per game. As a team, the Tigers shoot nearly shoot 73 percent from the line, so that gives a few freebie points to add.

This is a smart transition by head coach Stoudamire. The Tigers are an absolutely abysmal long-range shooting team. As a squad, the Tigers shoot just 31 percent from afar, good for No. 311 in the country. Luckily, they don’t rely on the long range shot whatsoever. Only 18.7 percent of their points come from three, good for the lowest mark in the country. Around 59 percent of their points come from inside the arc, good for fourth-highest mark in the country.

Much of that effort comes from junior guard Miles Reynolds, who averages a team-leading 13 points, taking 6.3 trips to the free throw line per game. He is joined by fellow 13 pointer Roberto Galliant. Interestingly enough, in the big game wins/losses to BYU and Saint Mary’s, it hasn’t been those players who have stepped up. Jahlil Tripp scored 22 against BYU, and Lafayette Dorsey scored 18 against Saint Mary’s. The one consistent: lots of free throws shot in each game.

What to watch out for

This is a much different Pacific team.

Granted, the Tigers are just 2-3 in their last five games, but none of those losses were that bad: a three point loss at home to Saint Mary’s, a two point loss at home to San Francisco, and a 15 point loss to BYU on the road (ok that is approaching bad territory). The Zags absolutely walloped the Tigers earlier in the conference, but I wouldn’t expect the score to be such a dramatic split again. Pacific has been playing much better as of late, and the Zags have been working their way through conference play with some serious ups and downs. Gonzaga’s defense was the biggest factor in the first game, holding Pacific to just 33 percent shooting from the floor. Let’s see if the Tigers learned.

Be aggressive and force Pacific to the bench.

The Tigers don’t go to their bench too often, largely because they don’t have much of a bench. Pacific only has 10 players on roster after Damon Stoudamire hopped on to coach the program. As such, if key players, such as Reynolds or Galliant get into foul trouble, Pacific tends to struggle. This can be a big advantage for Gonzaga down low, specifically. Pacific really only has three players to cover the four and five spots: 7’0 senior Namdi Okonkwo, 6’8 junior Jack Williams, and 6’6 junior Anthony Townes. The Zags can create a huge mismatch down low if they are able to force an issue with foul trouble there. Both Johnathan Williams and Rui Hachimura are adept at drawing fouls down low. Both of them should spend quite a bit of time in the paint trying to do so.