Gonzaga has had a relatively easy time equaling the school record for most consecutive victories to open a season. Breaking that mark, however, might prove a little more difficult.
The No. 10 Bulldogs face a stiff challenge in their first true road game Wednesday night against in-state rival Washington State.
Gonzaga (8-0) has appeared in 14 straight NCAA tournaments and won at least 25 games in 12 of those seasons, but no team in the program's history has ever opened with nine straight victories. With five players averaging at least 10.1 points on a squad that's scoring 85.3 per game and shooting 53.3 percent, the Bulldogs matched the 1994-95 team for the best start in school history with Saturday's 85-67 home win over Pacific.
"We've been very good so far,'' said coach Mark Few, whose team is winning by an average 27.8 points. "But we don't know how good of teams we've played.''
The Bulldogs won the Old Spice Classic title with convincing victories of Clemson, Oklahoma and Davidson, and rolled to an 84-50 home win over a West Virginia squad that is 2-3. However, Wednesday's trip south to Pullman might prove to be Gonzaga's toughest on the young season.
Though the Bulldogs have won three of four in the series, they lost 81-59 in their last trip to Washington State on Dec. 8, 2010. That victory began the Cougars' current streak of 17 straight home victories over non-conference opponents. Washington State (5-3) has yielded 54.2 points and 36.9 percent shooting in its five home games this season.
"The challenge is going to be a good one," said 6-foot-10 Cougars senior Brock Motum, who averages team highs of 18.9 points and 7.0 rebounds. "We just need to keep improving. They are a great team. I think we'll be up for the challenge."
This contest also begins a challenging week for Gonzaga, which hosts No. 13 Illinois on Saturday night.
"This is going to be a difficult week,'' Few said. "Washington State is always difficult for us. And I've seen enough of Illinois to know (it is) good.''
If the Bulldogs are to succeed this week and beyond, they'll likely need their bench to continue to play well. While starters Elias Harris (15.9 points, 8.4 rebounds per game), Kevin Pangos (10.9 ppg), Kelly Olynyk (12.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Gary Bell Jr. (9.6 ppg) are the backbone, 6-foot-9 Sam Dower (10.1 ppg), 7-1 freshman Przemek Karnowski (10.5 ppg) and guard David Stockton (4.0 assists) must remain consistent contributors off the bench.
Dower, who scored a team-high 11 points in the 2010 loss at Washington State, had 18 and nine rebounds against Pacific.
"We have great depth and balance," Few said. "It's going to be different guys every night; I don't think it's always going to be the same guys."
Olynyk and Harris were held to a combined 13 points as Gonzaga shot 39.6 percent against the Cougars in 2010. Harris, however, had 14 with 11 rebounds in the Bulldogs' 89-81 home win over Washington State last season. Pangos went 9 of 13 from 3-point range to finish with a career-high 33 points while Bell added 14.
Motum had 17 points, eight boards and four assists at Gonzaga last season, and has totaled 55 points and 16 rebounds in Washington State's last two contests. He scored 29 and guard Royce Woolridge added a career-high 20 with seven assists in a 72-60 win over Portland on Saturday.
Washington State has won three in row following three straight losses to Pepperdine, then-No. 12 Kansas and Texas A&M.