San Francisco came off Covid pause to host Pepperdine on Wednesday. They looked sharp defensively in the first half, holding Pepperdine to just 25 points and held a double digit lead. Then the wheels came off. It looked like fatigue set in from not playing in 17 days and the Waves scored 51 second half points to pick up a huge victory on the Hilltop. The Dons are now reeling, at a somewhat surprising 4-5 in the WCC, as the Gonzaga Bulldogs come to town Saturday afternoon.
There may be nothing scarier than a desperate basketball team in need of a massive win, who also happens to shoot a ridiculous number of three-pointers. The Zags may have handled USF in their meeting at the Kennel, but this game could be a little dicier if the Dons hit shots.
USF shoots nearly 50 percent of their total attempts from beyond the arc. They have yet to have a game this season where they shoot fewer than 20 threes. In 10 of their 19 games, they’ve shot at least 30. By comparison, over the last three seasons, Gonzaga has shot 30 or more threes a grand total of two times. If the Bulldogs are going to return home 20-0, they’re going to have to limit the easy looks. They’re also going to have to score, which was not a problem the first time around. The Zags put up 1.16 points per possession, Corey Kispert was 8-for-8 inside the arc, Drew Timme and Joel Ayayi both posted double-doubles, and Gonzaga cruised to an 85-62 win.
The Dons have a pair of explosive guards in Khalil Shabazz and Jamaree Bouyea, who combine to take 57 percent of shots when they’re on the court. Bouyea left Wednesday’s game early with an injury and may not play on Saturday. His replacement, Isaiah Hawthorne, had a career-high 13 points in 20 minutes. In short, they have talented guards and wings.
What they lack this season is any type of interior presence. The loss of Jimbo Lull has been more impactful than most people may have thought possible. Of course, it’s not that they are a bad defense. They are top 100 in the country. But their philosophy is to take away the three-point line, allowing a lot of interior play, and without a rim protector like Lull, they are susceptible to big games from strong forwards.
Gonzaga has not lost at War Memorial (now the Sobrato Center) since dropping three straight early last decade, but the games are often tight, including each of the last two years, which went down to the wire. A win on Saturday would be the 100th straight victory over WCC foes not named Saint Mary’s or BYU. That’s right: 100 straight wins over WCC schools not named Saint Mary’s or BYU. In an era of wild accomplishments for Gonzaga, that is up there as one of the best.
Game: #1 Gonzaga at San Francisco
Time: 3 pm pacific
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Flemming, Sean Farnham)
KenPom: 87-70 Gonzaga