Moraga, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Seeking a school-record 21st straight victory, the third-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs are in the Golden State for Saturday's West Coast Conference showdown with the Saint Mary's Gaels.
Gonzaga claimed an 86-74 victory at Pacific on Thursday night to tie the program record for consecutive wins at 20, and to also earn at least a share of its 18th WCC regular-season title. The Bulldogs can claim the crown outright with a win here, and maintain their status as one of the teams with a legitimate shot at picking up a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
In any other season, Saint Mary's would be considered a viable challenger to the Bulldogs in the WCC, but even its 20-6 overall mark and 12-3 league ledger doesn't compare to what Gonzaga has done. The Gaels were also in action on Thursday night, as they routed the visiting Portland Pilots in a 68-51 final. The triumph improved SMC to 14-3 at home.
These two teams met in Spokane back on Jan. 22, with the Zags prevailing rather easily, 68-47. Kevin Pangos scored 14 points as high man for Gonzaga, who shot 52.9 percent from the field, compared to only 36 percent for the Gaels, who went a dismal 2-of-15 behind the 3-point line.
As a result, GU's lead in the all-time series is at 61-27, and the Bulldogs have won the last seven meetings.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 45 points, the most by a Gonzaga player in more than half a century, in leading the Bulldogs to their recent win at Pacific. Gary Bell, Jr. was well off the impressive pace set by Wiltjer (15-of-22 from the field, 7-of-10 beyond the arc, 8-of-9 at the foul line) as he tallied a dozen points. Pangos didn't shoot much, but dished out eight of the team's 20 assists. As a collective unit, the Zags made good on 60 percent of their total shots, drained 10 treys and went 16-of-17 at the charity stripe. The Tigers managed to convert 11-of-19 long-range launches and had four players score in double figures.
As a result of his recent outburst, Wiltjer's team-leading scoring average climbed to 17.4 ppg, which has him ranked fifth in the WCC. Pangos (12.0 ppg), Byron Wesley (10.6 ppg) and Przemek Karnowski (10.3 ppg) are netting double digits as well for a squad that lights up the scoreboard for 80 ppg behind outstanding shooting efforts of .529 overall (tops in the nation), .403 from 3-point land, and .704 at the free-throw line. Donatas Sabonis (9.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is one of the top sixth men in the country, and Gonzaga is a solid defensive team as well, permitting just 60.4 ppg while logging an impressive +8.4 rebounding margin.
Saint Mary's shot the ball well in Thursday's win over Portland, hitting 54.2 percent of its field goal attempts while putting three players in double figures. Kerry Carter went 4-of-6 from distance to tally 21 points, Aaron Bright had a pair of treys as part of his 16-point showing, and Brad Waldow pitched in with 12 points on a 6-of-8 shooting performance overall. As for the Pilots, they were limited to 40.4 percent success on their total shots, and they missed the mark on eight of their 11 3-point tries.
Waldow (19.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg) is clearly the best player on the Saint Mary's roster, and one of the best all-around performers in the WCC as he currently ranks second in the league in scoring while sitting atop its rebounding list. Carter and Bright are both netting double figures as well, but their respective averages of 12.5 and 10.8 ppg fall well short of what Waldow brings to the table. As a team, the Gaels are generating 69.7 ppg behind solid shooting outputs of .465 overall, .372 out on the perimeter, and .713 at the free-throw line. SMC rivals GU with regard to rebounding differential (+7.2), but it sits on the negative side of the ledger in turnover margin (-2.1).