Coming off the humiliating loss to Portland for the first time in 20 games, Gonzaga went on road down South and got two much needed wins against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine.
After the three straight games on the road, Gonzaga is home this week to face San Diego and in conference rival BYU.
San Diego started the season off hot with 5 straight wins before losing 4 out of their next 7. San Diego has played a fairly weak non-conference schedule with the exception of San Diego State and New Mexico.
With a moderately weak record at 11 and 9, USD is still no team to look past. In early December they gave the now 7th ranked San Diego State Aztecs a scare losing 65-64 in the inner city rival.
USD is lead by Junior guard Johnny Dee and Sophomore guard Duda Sanadze.
Dee is averaging 16.5 points per game on the season and has given the Bulldogs problems in the past. Last season he led USD with 21 points against the Zags in a close 65-63 Gonzaga win. Dee can really stroke it from the outside, which is a big part of his game. He is currently shooting 40 percent from deep and an impressive 92 percent from the free throw line.
Sanadze is a bigger guard a 6-foot-5, 220 pounds who can also score from the outside. In his first season playing for USD, Sanadze, a Sophomore, is scoring 13 points per game while shooting 32 percent from the three point line.
With the big game coming Saturday against BYU, Gonzaga cannot afford to look past USD. While San Diego has struggled to start conference play posting a 2-5 record, they have given Gonzaga issues in the past and if there is any coach who knows Mark Few the best, it is his former head assistant Bill Grier.
USD is small inside and with Sam Dower Jr. for Gonzaga coming off his WCC player of the week title, I expect him to carry the Zags past USD.
After Gonzaga plays San Diego on Thursday, the focus is immediately shifted towards the second best team in the conference, the BYU Cougars.
BYU has played a very tough non-conference schedule, playing 4 ranked teams, which included two nail bitters. They lost to #16 Iowa State 90-88 and at the time 13th ranked Oregon 100-96 in overtime. This team is battle tested and will be ready to play against Gonzaga.
Tyler Haws makes this team go. A Wooden Award preseason candidate, Haws is averaging 22 points per game, 42 percent from three and shooting 46 percent from the field. As a 6-foot-5 Junior, Haws has the ability to penetrate the lane as well as hit it from the outside.
Haws is not the only BYU player to watch, as his backcourt partner Matt Carlino, is no slouch himself. Carlino is averaging 14.6 points per game and 4.6 assists per game. Carlino can create for his teammates as well score when he needs to. This guard duo can get hot if you let them and will be up to Gonzaga’s defense to make sure this does not happen.
Gonzaga is coming off two road wins, but still is struggling to find any sort of consistency. Kevin Pangos is still leading the team with over 16 points per game but has been shooting uncharacteristically bad including a 1 for 11, 3-point performance last game against LMU. Pangos has been hampered by turf toe for a few weeks and it clearly is still bothering him.
The Zags have been hit by the injury bug including one to key senior Sam Dower Jr. Luckily, Dower Jr. seems to be getting healthy coming off his WCC player of the week award and two monster games. Against Pepperdine Dower Jr. put up 18 points on a perfect 7 of 7 shooting and added 8 rebounds followed by 28 points and 14 rebounds against LMU.
They will need Dower Jr. and Pangos to play well if they expect to beat BYU. BYU has played in several big games and they will be ready come Saturday to take down the Bulldogs. Gonzaga cannot afford another early conference loss and will have their hands full this weekend.
Game Times (PT): Thursday January 23rd vs. USD 7:00 PM on ESPNU
Saturday January 25th vs. BYU 7:00 PM on ESPN2
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