The No. 12 Bulldogs expect a serious challenge in the present when they face the visiting Tigers for the first time in 36 years Saturday night.
Pacific (3-3) was one of the founding members of what is now the WCC, but left for the current Big West in the early 1970s. It returns in 2013-14 as the WCC’s 10th member.
Though the move is a year away, the Tigers already have created a buzz after they beat reigning WCC regular season and tournament champion Saint Mary’s 76-66 in last week’s DirecTV Classic in Anaheim. Pacific, which also handed Xavier its only loss in that event and lost 78-58 to unbeaten California in the final, now has its sights set on a Gonzaga team that is trying to start 8-0 for the first time since 1994-95.
“They wanted to come up and play this game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They know they have a good club and are ready for this challenge. We are going to have to be ready and be at our best as they showed they can really play.”
The Bulldogs are 2-1 in the all-time series but have not faced Pacific since a 70-60 loss Dec. 23, 1976.
Few’s squad will have two of its top players well-rested. Elias Harris, averaging team highs of 15.7 points and 9.2 rebounds, and Gary Bell Jr., scoring 9.7 per game, stayed on the sideline Thursday as Gonzaga rolled to a 104-57 victory over Lewis-Clark State College. By resting those key players, Few had more time to evaluate his depth.
Freshman Kyle Dranginis had 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds as the Bulldogs shot 64.2 percent during what was an exhibition game for the Warriors of the NAIA. Kelly Olynyk had 11 points with 10 boards in his fourth game after being suspended for the first three for violating the school’s code of conduct. Przemek Karnowski, a 7-foot-1 freshman, scored 16 and Memphis transfer Drew Barham added 11.
“I just wanted to rest them,” Few said. “Gary’s beat up, walking around like he’s 50 years old. I knew if I sat Elias it would force me to play Przemek more minutes. I thought it was time to get Kyle more minutes. If we could get (Harris and Bell) some rest, the other guys could pick us up. Mission accomplished.”
Gonzaga used that contest as a tune-up for a challenging four-game stretch that continues with a visit to Washington State before facing No. 22 Illinois and Kansas State. However, the focus remains on a Pacific squad that looks to bounce back after shooting a season-low 34.4 percent against Cal on Sunday.
Senior guard Lorenzo McCloud averages a team-leading 11.7 points, but he was held to six in that contest and committed five of his team’s eight turnovers.
Despite allowing Cal to shoot 54.0 percent, Pacific coach Bob Thomason was pleased with his team’s overall performance in Anaheim. The Tigers entered the event after losing to Fresno State and Oral Roberts by a combined seven points.
“We’re finding out what we do well and what we don’t do well,” he said. “We’ve got to build on the confidence that we gained at this tournament.”
Pacific has lost nine straight against Top 25 opponents since a 66-58 win over No. 21 Providence in the 2004 NCAA tournament.