After being blown out and taken to the buzzer in their last two games, Gonzaga might be set to catch a break.
On Saturday night, the visiting No. 19 Bulldogs look to remain perfect in the West Coast Conference while trying for a ninth consecutive victory over short-handed San Francisco.
Gonzaga (18-5, 9-0) kept its cushion atop the WCC with a gritty 72-70 win at Saint Mary’s on Thursday. That came one game after the Bulldogs were dominated in a 68-50 loss to then-No. 14 Memphis last Saturday on a neutral court in Spokane, Wash.
The Bulldogs have won 16 straight WCC games dating to an 89-85 overtime loss at then-No. 25 Saint Mary’s on Feb. 4, 2008.
A win over last-place San Francisco (9-16, 1-9) and a Portland victory at Saint Mary’s on Saturday would assure Gonzaga no worse than second place in the league and an automatic berth in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
The Bulldogs have a good chance of holding up their end of that scenario against the Dons, who have lost three in a row and are expected to again be without second-leading scorer Manny Quezada (10.6 pgg) and starting center Hyman Taylor. They are among four San Francisco players suspended indefinitely this week by coach Rex Walters for “not complying with his instructions during practice.”
San Francisco, which lost 85-51 at Gonzaga on Jan. 17, hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs since a 73-70 victory at home on Jan. 20, 2005. Likely playing with just eight players, the Dons could have an even tougher time against the Bulldogs, who held them to 32.1 percent shooting last month.
Even without injured star Patrick Mills, Saint Mary’s pushed Gonzaga to the brink, trimming a seven-point Bulldogs’ lead to one with less than 10 seconds remaining. After forcing a turnover, Jeremy Pargo hit a free throw and the Gaels missed a desperation shot at the buzzer.
Matt Bouldin scored 21 points and topped the 1,000-point mark for his career. Josh Heytvelt added 20 with 10 rebounds for Gonzaga, which has won 10 of 11 since losing three in a row to close out December.
Heytvelt, who’s averaging a team-leading 14.5 points with 6.8 rebounds, is two points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career after coming off his third double-double of the season.
“I was happy for Josh. He’s putting together a really good senior year,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Heytvelt is averaging just 7.4 points in five games versus San Francisco. Sophomore Austin Daye had 25 and nine boards against the Dons earlier this season.
Though the Dons will be minus a couple of key contributors, the Bulldogs still must contend with WCC scoring leader Dior Lowhorn.
The 6-foot-7 junior is averaging 20.2 points and had 24 in San Francisco’s 72-67 home loss to Portland on Thursday. The Bay Area native is averaging 18.7 points in three games against Gonzaga, but was held to 15 last month in Spokane.
San Francisco has lost six in a row against ranked opponents since beating the Bulldogs in 2005.