GAME NOTES: The Gonzaga Bulldogs will attempt to continue their reign atop the West Coast Conference standings on Saturday night when they venture to War Memorial Gymnasium for a showdown with the San Francisco Dons.
Since suffering its only WCC loss of the season on Jan. 9 at Portland (82-73), Gonzaga has reeled off five consecutive victories, most recently winning in dramatic, last-second fashion at Santa Clara on Wednesday night, 54-52. The Bulldogs are an outstanding 19-3 overall this season, which includes a stellar 4-1 mark on the road.
USF has also been streaking of late with three straight victories, all at home, including an 84-71 triumph over Portland on Wednesday to improve to 14-8 overall and 7-3 in conference action. The Dons, who will wrap up a five-game homestand with this matchup, have gone 11-4 at War Memorial Gymnasium this season.
Gonzaga made easy work of USF on Dec. 30 at home, 69-41, to improve its standing in the all-time series to 47-22.
The Bulldogs faced a seven-point deficit early in the second half at Santa Clara on Wednesday only to take over with a 10-point lead with less than four minutes to play, and while they lost control down the stretch and trailed by one in the waning moments, Sam Dower drilled a 3-pointer with two seconds left to lift them to victory. They overcame a poor field goal shooting night (.348) with a 17-of-19 showing at the foul line and were led by 15 points from Gary Bell Jr. Dower scored 13 points and Przemek Karnowski finished 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
Not only are Gonzaga the WCC's highest-scoring team (80.7 ppg) but it is also one of the nation's most efficient, as it ranks third in field goal percentage (.508) and second in 3-point percentage (.425). Its scoring defense is impressive as well, holding opponents to just 65.9 ppg. Pacing the balanced squad is Kevin Pangos (15.7 ppg), who's drained 60 3-pointers at a 45.1 percent clip while also finding time to hand out 4.2 apg. Dower (14.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is a force in the paint, making greater than 60 percent of his field goal tries. Bell, Jr. (12.4 ppg) and Karnowski (10.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg) bring consistent contributions to the table, while Gerard Coleman, Drew Barham and David Stockton all net between 7.1 and 7.5 ppg.
The Dons opened up a double-digit halftime lead over Portland earlier in the week and never looked back from there en route to the 13-point victory. While they allowed Portland to shoot 49.1 percent from the field, they were even better at 56.3 percent and were paced by the efforts of Cole Dickerson (21 points) and Kruize Pinkins (20 points, seven rebounds). Avry Holmes chipped in 15 points to the winning cause, while Mark Tollefsen scored 12.
USF has established a similar theme all season long, as it plays less-than- stellar defense, allowing 75.1 ppg, but makes up for it with a strong offensive attack, netting 77.6 ppg itself on 48.3 percent field-goal shooting. Dickerson is one of the WCC's top forwards with 14.0 ppg and 7.5 rpg, and while he's able to stretch the floor with a 24-of-67 showing from 3-point range (.358), he's hurt his team with a dreadful free-throw percentage (.507). Pinkins (12.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is also an essential asset down low, while Holmes (11.8 ppg), Tollefsen (11.4 ppg), Matt Glover (8.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Tim Derksen (8.8 ppg) round out the deep attack.
USF has played very well on its home floor and should be able to give Gonzaga a run for its money. The Bulldogs showed earlier in the week that they are indeed vulnerable away from home, but expect them to pull out another close one.
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