Wake Forest has hardly been challenged in its first three games, winning by at least 31 points each time. Demon Deacons coach Dino Gaudio expects that to change starting Thursday.
That’s when Gaudio’s No. 19 Deacons begin play in the eight-team 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., against Cal State Fullerton.
Wake (3-0) has pounded three in-state opponents to open the season, posting an average victory margin of 36.3 points against teams that have a combined 2-10 record.
The most recent win came by a 62-31 score over crosstown rival Winston-Salem State. The Deacons posted their lowest point total of the season for the game, and shot 35 percent with 18 turnovers in the first half.
Wake led 21-14 at halftime, but rebounded to shoot 68 percent over the final 20 minutes with only five turnovers, outscoring the Rams 41-17.
“We didn’t come out mentally ready to play, and that’s on me,” Gaudio said. “We told them, ‘Winston-Salem State plays against you in the summer, and they’re not going to come in here intimidated in any way, shape or form,’ and they didn’t.”
Wake did hold Winston-Salem State to the lowest point total by a Deacons opponent in 60 years.
The Deacons, who scored 94 and 120 points in their first two games, should get their first true test in this tournament. The 76 Classic includes St. Mary’s, Texas-El Paso, Arizona State, Charlotte, Providence and Baylor.
Arizona State is 14th in AP Top 25, while Baylor received the 26th-most votes and St. Mary’s the 28th-most.
“It’s a terrific field,” Gaudio said. “Someone said that six of the eight teams from that tournament will be in the NCAA tournament. I hope we’re one.”
Wake has four players averaging at least 12.7 points, led by sophomore guard Jeff Teague at 19.7. Al-Farouq Aminu averages a team-leading 10.0 rebounds and 12.7 points, while James Johnson, last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, is at 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a contest.
Cal State Fullerton (2-2) earned its first NCAA berth in 30 years last season but returns one starter.
That’s senior guard Josh Akognon, who leads the team in scoring for the second straight season at 24.3 points per game. Akognon averaged 20.2 points in 2007-08 and returned to school after withdrawing from the NBA draft.
“Josh Akognon is certainly one of the best guards in the West and this season, he will have the opportunity to show everyone that he’s one of the best in the country,” Fullerton coach Bob Burton said.
Gerard Anderson adds 15.3 points and a team-leading 7.5 rebounds a game for the Titans.
Fullerton suffered a 76-75 loss to Portland State on Sunday as the Vikings’ Jamie Jones hit the winning shot with 10 seconds to play. The Titans had a chance to win at the buzzer, but Anderson’s heavily contested jumper fell short.
Wake Forest and Fullerton have never met. The Deacons will take on St. Mary’s or UTEP in their next game Friday.