LAS VEGAS – You’ve been warned.
“Great shooters, and the point guard (Frankie Ferrari) is playing great. Another game just like this,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, previewing Monday’s WCC Tournament semifinal date with fourth-seeded San Francisco at 6 p.m. at Orleans Arena.
That comment came roughly 15 minutes after the top-seeded Zags weathered a bruise-fest and an offensive blitz from Loyola Marymount point guard James Batemon in an 83-69 win Saturday. The Lions made 11 3-pointers and Batemon put heavy foul pressure on Gonzaga’s trio of starting guards.
Need more evidence of the obstacles ahead? Consider the four quarterfinal games Saturday, where the top four seeds outlasted lower-seeded challengers.
No. 10 Pepperdine followed up its close call against the Zags in Spokane by leading Saint Mary’s nearly the whole way before falling 69-66. No. 6 San Diego crawled out of a 17-point deficit before falling to BYU 85-79. No. 5 Pacific had San Francisco on the ropes but lost in overtime.
The WCC takes heat for its lower-echelon teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI but several have managed to scare the conference’s big dogs. Few mentioned earlier in the week that he was wary of facing teams in desperation mode trying to prolong their seasons.
San Francisco (18-14) has pushed the Zags twice, losing by a combined 19 points. The Dons come in with some momentum after winning six of their last eight, including a 70-63 upset over the Gaels in mid-February.
“You’re in for transition defense,” Dons coach Kyle Smith said of facing GU. “You better get back. They’re going to try to play bully-ball a little bit. You have to be tough. If you do that part, there’s another whole tier you have to get to.”
Gonzaga’s concerns center on the Dons’ guards. Ferrari, a junior, joined the starting lineup late in the nonconference season and quickly became the team’s leading scorer (11.4) and distributor (4.3 assists per game).
Ferrari has played at least 31 minutes in the last 15 games and reached double-figure scoring in 14 of those.
Ferrari is surrounded by 6-foot-5 guards Jordan Ratinho and Chase Foster. Add in freshman Souley Boum, who’s playing time has dropped off with Ferrari’s emergence, and the four guards account for 45 of USF’s 69 points per game.
Ferrari has the trust of the coaching staff to orchestrate the offense. Ratinho is a strong spot-up shooter. He made five 3s and scored 20 points against Pacific.
“They’re part of our blueprint,” Smith said of the two juniors. “We have really good kids in our program. I get emotional talking about them. Both these guys being Bay Area guys … they play their hearts out.”
USF’s four guards have made 205 3-pointers while shooting nearly 41 percent. The Dons have connected on 267 3s, second in program history to last year’s crew.
“They have a lot of great shooters,” said Zags forward Killian Tillie, who had 24 points and combined with Johnathan Williams (20) and Zach Norvell Jr. (17) to score 61 of GU’s 83 points versus Loyola Marymount. “We’re going to have to defend out to the shooters. That’s going to be a key.”
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