SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—Two of the hottest teams in the country will meet in a rare non-conference showdown on Saturday.
No. 14 Memphis, winners of 13 straight, take on surging Gonzaga with both teams looking for a signature win to help bolster their stock—and seeding— for the NCAA tournament. The No. 18 Bulldogs have won nine straight and assumed control of the West Coast Conference.
“We’ve had great games with them in past, but we need to break through and win one of them,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose teams have lost to Memphis the past three seasons.
The Tigers are one of relatively few college powers the Zags have lured to Spokane. Sure, Gonzaga has played heavyweights like Connecticut and Tennessee this season, but all those games have either been on the opponent’s court or at a neutral site.
Even this game is not at the on-campus McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags are 60-3 since it opened in 2004. Instead, they are playing in 11,000-seat Spokane Arena.
The game sold out quickly, and will be nationally televised with ESPN College GameDay making its second trip to Gonzaga.
Memphis (13-3) has won 50 straight Conference USA games since its last loss in 2006 to Alabama-Birmingham. Gonzaga (17-4) is 44-6 in the WCC the past four seasons.
Just figures they would need to hook up for some competition this time of year.
The game should feature two high-powered offenses and solid defenses. The Tigers average 77 points while giving up 61, and the Zags score 79 per game while allowing 61.
There’s also plenty of individual star power.
The Tigers are led by Tyreke Evans, who’s averaging 16.8 points, and have a number of veterans left over from the team that made a run at the national championship last season.
The Zags have a balanced lineup led by Josh Heytvelt, who is scoring 14.4 points and grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game.
Gonzaga won the first game in the series in 1998, but the Tigers have won the past three years, including a 78-77 overtime game in Spokane two seasons ago.
“This is a great series, one we really point at on the schedule every year,” Few said. “There is great mutual respect from the players back and forth.”