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Gonzaga shoots for bounce back from BYU loss, outright West Coast Conference title

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 26, 2020

It’s an area in which Gonzaga lacks experience, and the Bulldogs are just fine with that.

Gonzaga has lost only 21 games since the beginning of the 2016 season. Throw out four season-ending defeats in the NCAA Tournament and the Zags have followed up 17 losses with a 16-1 record, including a 7-0 mark in 2016.

Only last season, when Gonzaga lost to Tennessee in Phoenix and North Carolina in Chapel Hill, has GU dropped consecutive games in that near five-season time frame.

That probably doesn’t bode well for San Diego, which visits Gonzaga on Thursday, five days after the Zags’ 91-78 loss to BYU in Provo.

Gonzaga’s top priority is bouncing back from its first regular-season conference loss since Saint Mary’s in January 2018. The Zags’ second priority: Securing another outright West Coast Conference title. That’s an area in which they have loads of experience.

Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1 WCC) has won or shared eight consecutive regular-season titles and 19 of the last 20 under coach Mark Few. Sixteen of those are solo crowns, two are co-titles with Saint Mary’s, which visits Gonzaga on Saturday.

The Zags hammered San Diego 94-50 in early January. They’ve won 11 straight in the series and they’re 89-0 against WCC teams not named Saint Mary’s or BYU since a February 2014 setback in San Diego.

San Diego (9-20, 2-12) has made marked improvement since the first meeting, despite winning just two games, both over last-place Portland. The Toreros have played five games in February against top five teams in the WCC. They lost by eight points to Pacific, six to Saint Mary’s, three to Pepperdine and one to BYU.

San Diego trailed the Gaels by four at half in last Saturday’s rematch before falling 92-69. Junior center Yauhen Massalski suffered a season-ending broken left ankle. Massalski was averaging 8.4 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds and 29 total blocks.

USD had issues dealing with Gonzaga’s frontcourt with Massalski in the first meeting. Filip Petrusev finished with 17 points in 15 minutes and the Zags piled up 52 paint points. GU led 53-16 at half.

Braun Hartfield, a 6-foot-6 junior guard, leads the Toreros at 14.6 points, followed by guard Joey Calcaterra’s 11.3. The two have combined for 95 3-pointers.

The Zags’ two losses this season had a number of similarities. They ran into a buzz saw both times. BYU was sporting a seven-game winning streak and had just moved into the AP rankings at No. 23. Michigan was unbeaten and coming off wins over Iowa State and then-No. 6 North Carolina in the Bahamas before thumping Gonzaga 82-64.

The Wolverines (54%) and Cougars (53.2%) torched Gonzaga’s defense. They combined for 23 3-pointers. Michigan 7-footer Jon Teske (19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks) and BYU post Yoeli Childs (28 points, 10 rebounds) dominated inside.

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