Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - With their 18th West Coast Conference regular-season crown already in the bag, the third-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs will try to continue their impressive run when they entertain the San Diego Toreros at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday night.
San Diego is an even 14-14 on the season, and its 7-9 league ledger has it tied with Portland for fifth place in the WCC standings. The Toreros have come out on the losing side in their last two games, the first being a 69-62 double-overtime affair at Saint Mary's on Feb. 14, and the latest a 75-62 setback at BYU five days later. USD is just 3-7 in true road tilts this season, having lost five of its last six on enemy hardwood. The Toreros will play their final regular-season games this Saturday at Portland.
Owners of the longest home winning streak in the nation at 40 games, Gonzaga continues to roll over the opposition. The Zags have won 20 straight games overall, with their most recent triumph coming in a 70-60 decision at Saint Mary's last Sunday. GU erased a 17-point deficit in that game, which gave them the WCC title outright. The Bulldogs will host BYU this Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Gonzaga owns a commanding 64-22 lead in the all-time series with San Diego, and the first encounter this season back on Dec. 29 on the Toreros' home court went to the Bulldogs, 60-48. In that contest, Kyle Wiltjer was one of three Zags to score in double figures with 15 points, while the home team had only one in Johnny Dee with 20. USD shot a dismal 26.8 percent from the field in the loss, logging a mere 15 field goals in the game overall.
Any success San Diego has achieved this season has been as a direct result of a defensive effort that allows only 63.4 ppg, which is the third-lowest yield in the WCC. The Toreros rank second in both blocked shots (4.0 bpg) and steals (6.7 spg), while leading the league in turnover margin (+1.75). Dee (17.8 ppg) is the third-leading scorer in the conference, and he is the lone double-digit scorer for a team that generates 65.8 ppg to rank sixth.
While it's true USD prides itself on putting forth a solid defensive effort from one night to the next, the Toreros had trouble keeping tabs on the WCC's leading scorer in BYU's Tyler Hawes last week. Hawes poured in 28 points to lead the Cougars to the 13-point win, while Dee and Duda Sanadze paced the Toreros with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Sizable deficits in both points at the foul line (23-11) and in rebounding (38-23) also played a major role in the negative outcome for San Diego.
Wiltjer scored 16 points and came up with 12 rebounds, while Przemek Karnowski and Kevin Pangos added 14 points apiece to lead Gonzaga to its come-from- behind win at Saint Mary's last Saturday. The Bulldogs made good on 47.1 percent of their field goal attempts, which included a stellar 8-of-14 performance out on the perimeter, while the Gaels were successful on 9-of-20 3-point tries as part of their 41.1 percent overall shooting effort. GU logged a 14-5 edge in points at the charity stripe, 12 of which it tallied in the second half.
Gonzaga has excelled at both ends of the court this season, as it puts up 79.7 ppg while permitting only 60.4 ppg. Thanks to four of the regulars shooting at 50 percent or better from the floor, the Bulldogs own a sizable differential in that department over the opposition (.527 to .384), and they are well on the plus-side of the ledger in rebounding (+8.2) as well. Wiltjer is netting 17.4 ppg to rank fifth in the conference, and he is joined in double figures by Pangos (12.0 ppg, 5.0 apg), Byron Wesley (10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Karnowski (10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg). Domantas Sabonis (9.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is one of the top reserves not only in the WCC, but the country as well.