Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-ranked team in the nation takes a break from conference play this weekend, as the Gonzaga Bulldogs host the Memphis Tigers on Saturday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Bulldogs are off to their best start in program history, having lost just once through the first 22 outings, and that lone setback just happened to come against then third-ranked Arizona in overtime. More recently, the Bulldogs moved to a perfect 10-0 against the rest of the West Coast Conference with a convincing 64-46 triumph over Portland on Thursday night in Spokane.
Gonzaga has not only won 14 straight games overall, the team continues to boast the longest home win streak in the nation as well at 37 games. Against the Pilots in particular, the Bulldogs have won all but two of the last 39 encounters in the series.
As for the Tigers, members of the American Athletic Conference, they last took the floor on Wednesday night against visiting East Carolina and carved out a 70-58 victory at FedExForum. The win was the second in a row and the fifth in six tries for the program.
Memphis has won six of the previous eight encounters with the Bulldogs, including two straight. The most recent decision took place in 2014 with the Tigers capturing a 60-54 win.
Austin Nichols scored a game-high 21 points, shooting 9-of-14 from the floor, and added five rebounds for the Tigers as they defeated visiting East Carolina earlier in the week. Off the bench, Trahson Burrell and Nick King both tallied 11 points and combined for another 12 boards for a squad that shot almost as well from the floor overall (.538) as it did at the free-throw line (.571). Defensively, Memphis was a bit sluggish when guarding the perimeter, allowing the Pirates to knock down 13-of-27 shots behind the 3-point line.
Nichols, the leading scorer for the Tigers in the last two outings and six of the last eight contests overall, accounts for a team-best 13.3 ppg as he shoots 52.2 percent from the floor. Aggressive in the paint, Nichols is also responsible for 6.0 rpg and is one of the nation's top shot blockers with 64 rejections through 20 starts. Burrell checks in with 9.1 ppg and another 5.7 rpg as the team outscores opponents by 6.3 ppg and has a 5.4 rpg advantage on the glass as well.
Considering how poorly the Pilots started out in the second half on Thursday night, it is rather surprising the team lost by just 18 on the road against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs ended up limiting Portland to only seven second-half field goals and 29.5 percent accuracy from the field overall, allowing the hosts to escape with just 5-of-22 shooting behind the 3-point line and 40.7 percent from the floor. Domantas Sabonis was huge off the bench for the Zags with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Przemek Karnowski had a double-double of his own with 10 points and 11 boards, to go along with four assists and three blocked shots. Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos chimed in with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
What makes the Bulldogs so tough this season is that any one of a handful of players can take over a game on offense and be the deciding factor. The proof of that is displayed in the scoring column where there is a total of five players scoring in double figures entering the weekend, led by Wiltjer with his 15.6 ppg. Pangos is responsible for not only 12.3 ppg on 47.6 percent shooting out on the perimeter, but also handing out 104 assists, against a mere 26 turnovers which is unheard of in college basketball.