Opening conference play with three straight games away from home might be intimidating to some teams, but not for a road-tested squad like Gonzaga.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs look to extend their West Coast Conference winning streak to 19 games when they conclude their road stretch Saturday night against San Diego.
Favored to win its 10th straight WCC regular-season title, Gonzaga (13-3, 2-0) knew it would be tested right off the bat with three straight road games against some of the league’s better teams. The Bulldogs have answered the first two challenges, winning 81-78 against a Portland team considered to be their main competition for the league title, and 89-82 in front of a raucous crowd at Saint Mary’s on Thursday.
Gonzaga is 8-2 away from Spokane, with those losses coming against then-No. 2 Michigan State in East Lansing and then-No. 7 Duke at Madison Square Garden.
The Bulldogs have won nine straight WCC road games since losing 69-62 at San Diego in the conference tournament championship game March 10, 2008. That was also the last time they lost to a league opponent.
Though San Diego (8-11, 1-2) has experienced victory over Gonzaga on its home court, doing it again will likely be a tough task. The Toreros dropped their second straight conference game, 63-54 to Portland on Thursday, to fall to 4-4 at home this season.
Gonzaga held San Diego to 47 points in each of its two victories last season. The Bulldogs have won 15 of 16 over the Toreros and look for another complete effort to conclude this swing before hosting Pepperdine on Thursday.
Freshman Elias Harris had a career-high 31 points with 13 rebounds, Matt Bouldin scored 22 points and Steven Gray added 14 with 14 rebounds Thursday as Gonzaga posted a season high-tying fifth consecutive victory.
The Bulldogs, averaging 86.4 points on 53.1 percent shooting during the current run, shot 59.7 percent from the floor and outrebounded Saint Mary’s 45-27.
“It’s coaching,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few joked about his team’s recent success. “It’s energy and desire.”
While Bouldin is averaging a team-leading 15.9 points on the season and 20.0 in his last three games, the 6-foot-7 German-born Harris is putting in 21.0 points and pulling down 10.4 rebounds per contest over his last five games.
His latest effort marked Gonzaga’s first 30-point performance since Adam Morrison’s 35 in a win over Xavier in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament.
Bouldin had 15 points and seven rebounds in Gonzaga’s 58-47 victory at San Diego in the teams’ most recent meeting Feb. 28.
San Diego’s Brandon Johnson is averaging 11.4 points in nine career games against Gonzaga, and scored 19 against Portland on Thursday.
The senior guard is averaging a team-leading 15.9 points this season, and 20.6 in his last five games for the Toreros, who are last in the WCC averaging 64.4 points per contest while shooting 41.0 percent overall.
San Diego will try for its second straight victory over a ranked opponent after beating then-No. 25 Oklahoma 76-64 at the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 25.