Gonzaga basketball rebounded after a devastating loss to Portland with a two-game win streak, but the larger battles for the Bulldogs remain ahead.
Without a marquee win in the non-conference play, it is beginning to look like Gonzaga will have to win a couple key matchups to bolster its resume or win the automatic bid with the WCC Championship.
BYU (Home and Away)
Brigham Young has surged in the WCC following a disastrous start and now sits just one game behind Gonzaga.
At the outset of the season, it appeared as if BYU would pose the largest threat to Gonzaga’s championship aspirations. Despite not living up to those expectations to date, BYU is still a very dangerous opponent.
While Tyler Haws, who averages 22.2 PPG, has garnered the most recognition, he is merely the tip of the sword. Matt Carlino (14.6 PPG), Kyle Collinsworth (14.0 PPG), Eric Mika (13.5 PPG) and Haws combine for 64.3 PPG.
What is rather daunting for Gonzaga is BYU’s ability to rebound the basketball. BYU is seventh in the nation in rebounds per game with 42.5. Gonzaga has had well-documented issues with allowing offensive rebounds and second-chance points this season.
The Marriott Center is the largest venue in the WCC, and BYU and its fanbase will be desperate for wins to help bolster the Cougars’ resume come March. These two games will certainly be tough challenges for this Gonzaga team.
St. Mary’s (Away)
As Gonzaga’s rival in the WCC, St. Mary’s will always be a play-up game.
After Gonzaga defeated St. Mary’s 73-51 in Spokane, many wondered if the Gaels would be able to recover in WCC play.
St. Mary’s has subsequently taken a loss to Santa Clara, but wins in their next two games have kept them just a game and a half out of the top spot.
The key for Gonzaga in the rematch against St. Mary’s in the closing game of WCC play on March 1st is going to be following the same game plan that led it to victory before.
Gonzaga must shut down Stephen Holt at the point guard position and Brad Waldow in the post.
Holt and Waldow have averaged a combined 30 points, 11.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists, but in the loss to Gonzaga this season, they combined for just 14 points, four rebounds and zero assists.
Gonzaga must continue this trend if it wants to leave Moraga with a very important win.
The game circled on Gonzaga’s schedule all season has been a road game at Memphis.
This is the second straight season that the Bulldogs will play a non-conference road game in the midst of WCC play.
Gonzaga fans will, of course, remember the devastating buzzer-beater loss to Butler as the sour point of last season. The loss at that point seemed critical, but in the grand scheme of things did not appear as anything more than a blemish on Gonzaga’s resume in March.
This season, however, the Bulldogs come into this similar situation in desperate need of a quality win.
Memphis has just four losses, all to quality teams that will make the NCAA tournament, and they have quality wins over LSU, Louisville and a top-five win over Oklahoma State.
Memphis boasts a backcourt that can run with the Zags, and it will be up to Gonzaga’s big men to win the battle in the paint against the incredibly effective high-low combination of Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin.
Make no mistake: If Gonzaga wants to win an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, this is the quality win it needs more than anything else.