After playing four of their last five games on the road, Gonzaga finally gets to unpack those suitcases and stay in Spokane for awhile. They begin a three-game home stand on Saturday night, beginning with the San Diego Toreros. San Diego gave Gonzaga trouble last year and they remain a very pesky team this season fighting it out for second place in the WCC. Gonzaga obliterated Portland, Santa Clara and BYU on the road. Will it be more of the same on Saturday or will we finally get a decent game?
San Diego Toreros (15-7, 4-3, KenPom 91)
USD has dealt with injuries the entire season. Starting center Yauhen Massalski missed three games in the non-conference slate. Starting point guard Isaiah Wright missed the first three games of WCC play. And now Olin Carter has missed the last four games with an abdominal injury. Despite all that, San Diego is a top 100 KenPom team, picked up wins over Colorado, San Diego State, and last week, they beat San Francisco. The good news for San Diego is that Carter is expected back on Saturday and the team will be playing at full strength for the first time since late December. They also have an added bonus of their bye week coming on Thursday. They will have had a full week to rest and prepare for the Zags, while the Bulldogs played an 8 pm road game on Thursday and must turn around quickly.
What to Watch For
San Diego’s defense and physicality
The Toreros are a middle-of-the-pack offensive team. They drive the ball well and get to the line a lot. They aren’t great three point shooters, but as we saw last year, Olin Carter can heat up quick (10 threes in two games vs GU in 2018). On the defensive side of the ball, they really get into you. Last season, they allowed teams to shoot just 30.7% from deep, a top five mark in the country. This season, it’s down to 30.4%. Their defensive efficiency in WCC play is 95.7, the only other team under 100 besides Gonzaga. They also have one of the better defensive rebounding rates in the country. USD has out rebounded their opponent in 18 of their 22 games. Gonzaga is fresh off destroying BYU on the offensive glass, so we’ll see if that can continue on Saturday.
Last Season’s Struggles
No team was peskier last season than the Toreros. And they bring back the same cast of characters. The game in Spokane was a two-point game with four minutes to go. The game in San Diego was tied with four minutes to go. Carter scored 21 in both games. Isaiah Wright and Isaiah Pineiro combined for 25 in Spokane and 28 at home. They are a senior-laden group who will have no fear of playing this Gonzaga squad. On the other side of things, Johnathan Williams averaged 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the two games and Rui Hachimura scored 16 points in their road victory. That game saw a chunk of time with a Rui-Tillie-Williams lineup and USD could not stop it. It’s possible Gonzaga goes to their three-big lineup in this game if the offense needs a boost.
After watching every WCC team play their non-conference schedules, I said Gonzaga’s closest conference game would be their road game at San Diego. I still think this is true, and it’s possible this ends up being their closest home game in league play, too. The quick turnaround, the senior talent on the other side, and a physical, athletic defense should keep this game closer than what we’ve seen lately.