Stockton, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs can earn at least a tie for their 18th West Coast Conference regular season title with a win on Thursday night against the Pacific Tigers.
Actually, a win this evening coupled with a Saint Mary's loss would give the Bulldogs the title outright. If that doesn't happen though, the Zags visit the Gaels on Saturday.
Gonzaga continues to impress this season, as the team has won 19 consecutive games, which is just one shy of the school record which it set twice previously (2003-04 and 2005-06), and has logged its fifth 14-0 start to WCC play under head coach Mark Few. A 56-48 victory over visiting Pepperdine last Saturday ran the Bulldogs' national-best home winning streak to 40 games, and it was their 19th straight WCC triumph dating back to last season.
As for Pacific, it enters this fray sporting a 10-16 record, and its 2-12 league ledger currently has it in last place. The Tigers, who have notched half of their total wins at home, are in the midst of a seven-game slide, with their latest disappointment coming in an 84-59 shellacking at BYU last Saturday. Pacific has won just twice since the calendar turned over to 2015, losing a total of 10 games in the process.
Gonzaga routed Pacific at home earlier this season, 91-60, as five players scored in double figures led by Gary Bell, Jr. and Przemek Karnowski with 13 points apiece. The Tigers got a dozen points each from T.J. Wallace and Eric Thompson, but they were outshot a staggering 60 percent to 33.3 percent.
It was the fourth straight win for the Zags over the Tigers, and increased their lead in the all-time series to 6-1.
The Bulldogs certainly didn't put forth their best offensive effort in the recent win over Pepperdine, as they made good on only 41.7 percent of their field goal attempts, which included a dismal 5-of-18 performance out on the perimeter. Fortunately, they held the Waves scoreless from beyond the arc (0- of-10), and outscored the visitors at the free-throw line, 11-4. Kevin Pangos went 4-of-6 from 3-point range to tally 19 points for the Zags, who also got 13 from Kyle Wiltjer and 10 from Domantas Sabonis.
Gonzaga is averaging a robust 79.8 ppg thanks to four double-digit scorers and a national-best field goal percentage of .527. Wiltjer leads the way with his 16.4 ppg, followed closely by Pangos (12.3 ppg, 4.8 apg), Byron Wesley (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Karnowski (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg). Sabonis (9.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Bell, Jr. (7.9 ppg) have also done their part to help the Bulldogs achieve the level of success they have once again this season. GU's defensive stand typically allows the opposition just 59.9 ppg, as they convert a mere 38.1 percent of their total shots and 31.2 percent of their 3-point tries. A substantial +8.7 rebounding margin has also been key.
Once again, poor play at both ends of the court led to Pacific's demise last weekend at BYU, as the Tigers shot just 36.9 percent from the floor while allowing the Cougars to connect on an even 50 percent of their total shots. Adding insult to injury, BYU easily won the rebounding battle, 44-34, and outscored Pacific at the charity stripe, 17-5. Both teams took very good care of the basketball, combining for 13 turnovers, only five of which were credited to the Tigers. Gabriel Aguirre paced the losing side with 14 points, Dulani Robinson had 12, and Thompson and David Taylor chipped in with 11 each.
Wallace has been the most productive player for Pacific this season, as he averages 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest. Robinson is the closest to joining Wallace in double figures, as he nets 9.5 ppg, helping the Tigers put up 64.1 ppg. Pacific is one of the worst shooting teams in the WCC, ranking ninth in field goal percentage (.420), 3-point field goal percentage (.342) and free-throw percentage (.634). It's not all negative for the Tigers though, as they own a +1.8 rebounding margin, and they make 6.4 3-pointers per game.