Back in its familiar spot atop the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga has a good chance to remain there with San Diego in town.
The 16th-ranked Bulldogs look for an 11th consecutive home victory over the struggling Toreros on Saturday night.
Elias Harris scored 19 points and Matt Bouldin added 18 as Gonzaga (20-4, 8-1) used a 16-3 second-half run to beat top rival Saint Mary’s 80-61 at home Thursday to move past the Gaels and take a one-half game lead in the conference.
“This was a really big deal to come out and get this W,” said Bouldin, who’s averaging 20.3 points on 54.5 percent shooting in his last seven games.
Not only did the victory put the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat for their 10th straight regular-season WCC title, it also secured the program’s 13th consecutive 20-win season during what was expected to be a rebuilding year.
“We’ve been able to stay relevant and consistent,” said coach Mark Few, whose team has won three in a row since being upset at San Francisco on Jan. 30. “Nothing is guaranteed.”
Though that’s true, Gonzaga has almost always been able to guarantee beating San Diego at the McCarthey Center in recent years. This season might not be much different as the Bulldogs carry a 19-game conference home winning streak into this contest.
San Diego (9-17, 2-8), which has lost three in a row and eight of nine, is tied for last in the conference and dropped its last three games overall against the Bulldogs, including 68-50 at home on Jan. 16. The Toreros haven’t won in Spokane since Feb. 17, 2000.
Harris had 20 points and nine rebounds last month at San Diego, and the 6-foot-7 freshman has averaged 18.6 points over his last five games at home. Bouldin is averaging 14.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting in three career home games versus the Toreros.
While Harris and Bouldin continue to pace a Gonzaga team that shot 54.2 percent against Saint Mary’s, it’s been the Bulldogs’ defense that’s helped them rebound from their upset at San Francisco. During the three-game winning streak, Gonzaga’s opponents have averaged 56.0 points on 37.5 percent shooting.
That doesn’t bode well for San Diego, which will be without one, or possibly both, of its top scorers for this contest.
Senior De’Jon Jackson (12.0 points per game) suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, while leading scorer Brandon Johnson (14.6 ppg) could miss a second straight game with a groin injury.
Johnson, who needs five points to become the school’s all-time leading scorer, is averaging 15.5 points in four career games at Gonzaga.
Chris Lewis scored a team-high 13 off the bench in San Diego’s 70-56 loss at Portland on Thursday.
San Diego has lost seven straight road games versus Top 25 opponents since beating then-No. 14 UCLA 86-81 in overtime on Nov. 26, 2002. Five of those defeats came at Gonzaga.