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Gonzaga hoping to recapture second-half magic from Pepperdine win in road trip finale at San Diego

Jan. 19—SAN DIEGO — Mark Few has been a proponent of a revised scheduling model in the West Coast Conference, probably with situations like the one Gonzaga's facing this week in mind.

Exactly 48 hours after an 86-81 victory over Pepperdine at in Malibu, California, Gonzaga (11-5, 3-1) will be back on the court roughly 150 miles south for a 7 p.m. tipoff against San Diego (10-9, 0-4) at Jenny Craig Pavilion.

"I'm not a fan of Thursday/Saturday, I think it should be Wednesday/Saturday or something," Few said after a Jan. 6 win over San Diego in Spokane. "It's hard to get prep, it's hard to get the guys rested. I don't think it leads to peak performance, especially on that second night. I was always pushing, they should be playing Tuesdays, Wednesdays. Space them out a little bit."

Through Few's tenure at Gonzaga, which has spanned 25 seasons and 700 wins after Thursday's result at Firestone Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs have normally relied on a sizable disparity in talent to overcome any potential disadvantages that come with being the road team playing a Thursday/Saturday WCC swing.

That should still be the case when the heavily favored Zags line up against the Toreros, who lost in blowout fashion when the teams met in Spokane two weeks ago, but Few's group has something else working against it Saturday evening.

At the earliest, Gonzaga's staff couldn't begin prep work for San Diego until the Bulldogs returned to the team hotel following Thursday's win. Toreros coach Steve Lavin would've been working under similar conditions, but USD's game on Thursday at Portland got postponed due to the region's ice storms. Once the WCC officially announced that game was off late Wednesday night, the Toreros immediately flipped the page to Saturday's contest against Gonzaga.

"I think they'll be fired up to play us, like everybody is," Few said. "I think they're a high-energy team. They play with great energy, they fly around, they play super hard. They're a confident team and they throw a lot at you on short prep. They play four or five different defenses, we handled it well I thought up at our place. I was really, I'm not going to say surprised, but they were very quick and very athletic. So we're going to face a lot of that."

Whatever perceived advantage USD may have with an extra day of game prep could be inconsequential if Gonzaga recaptures the form it discovered on both ends of the floor against Pepperdine.

The Bulldogs opened the second half on a 21-3 run, gave up just one field goal inside during the first minutes, and held Pepperdine's trio of Michael Ajayi, Houston Mallette and Jevon Porter to three points on 0-for-12 shooting from the field in the game's final 20 minutes. On the other end, Gonzaga shot 70% from the field and made 5 of 8 3-point attempts while stretching its lead to a game-high 23 points.

"We're not talented enough to just roll in and beat guys on talent this year," Few said. "We've got to beat them on toughness. We've got to beat them on attention to detail and then we've also got to get that swag and confidence that all our teams have had. We were kind of rattled this week in practice, so they responded. I was really proud of them for that."

The San Diego team awaiting Gonzaga doesn't have a Division I win since beating South Dakota State on Dec. 21, but the Toreros are still an interesting team. Lavin's team routinely switches up its defensive strategy midgame, something the Zags handled well in their first game against USD, and the Toreros use a variety of players off the bench making it hard to key in on five to seven primary rotation options.

With top scorer Deuce Turner unavailable in Saturday's 83-77 loss to Pepperdine, the Toreros used their 10th starting lineup of the season. Ten players have at least one start for USD and Saturday's lineup will almost certainly look different than the one the Bulldogs saw at the Kennel, with junior guard Wayne McKinney (14.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.9 apg) back in the mix after missing the first game against Gonzaga with a leg injury.

"We'll probably go back tonight (Thursday), tomorrow (Friday) and watch some film, see what they've been doing between the games they've been playing us, make a couple adjustments from the last game," Gonzaga forward Graham Ike said.

Turner totaled 24 points in a 101-74 loss to the Zags, but it's unclear if the junior guard will play after suffering an undisclosed injury before the Pepperdine game.