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Feb 28, 2024 9:17 am

No. 23 Gonzaga faces San Francisco in crucial WCC game

Graham Ike

No. 23 Gonzaga has returned to the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll just in time for two crucial West Coast Conference road tests that could determine just how important the conference tournament will be for the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga (22-6, 12-2) will travel to San Francisco on Thursday night for a showdown with the Dons at the Golden State Warriors’ home arena, the Chase Center, followed by the regular-season finale Saturday night at No. 17 Saint Mary’s.

Win those games and Gonzaga is an NCAA Tournament lock. Split the games and the Bulldogs probably are in good shape, but they likely couldn’t afford to lose their first game at the conference tournament in Las Vegas. Go 0-for-2 and they might have to win the conference tournament to earn an NCAA bid that almost seems to be a birthright for this program.

“That’s why you play the game, to play against the top guys in the league and show what you’re made of,” said Gonzaga forward Graham Ike.

The Wyoming transfer has taken his words to heart lately. Ike worked Santa Clara over for 26 points Saturday night in his team’s 94-81 home win that avenged a January loss to the Broncos and stretched the Zags’ winning streak to six games.

Like the rest of Gonzaga’s offense lately, Ike was efficient and potent. He was 9 of 13 from the field and 8 of 9 from the foul line Saturday as the Bulldogs shot 56.7 percent from the field, including 8 of 16 from the 3-point line.

Gonzaga has averaged 88.5 points in the past 12 games — 11 victories — shooting 54.3 percent from the field. During their current winning streak, the Bulldogs have averaged at least 1.25 points per possession in every game.

“Everything is clicking,” guard Nolan Hickman said.

The same could be said for the Dons (22-7, 11-3), aside from a four-point loss last week at league-leading Saint Mary’s. Saturday’s 92-68 home rout of Pepperdine marked San Francisco’s seventh win in eight games, improving their home record to 13-1.

Six players scored in double figures Saturday for San Francisco, led by Ndewedo Newbury with 19 points. Missouri State transfer Jonathan Mogbo continued an excellent season with 14 points. Mogbo is averaging 14.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals a game.

Five other players average between 7.5 and 14.1 points for the Dons, who average 79 points per game and are fifth in Division I in field-goal percentage at 49.7.

Second-year coach Chris Gerlufsen said he was pleased with his team’s ability to bounce back from a tough loss against Saint Mary’s, the WCC’s likely regular-season champion.

“All we talked about all week was what our response would be,” Gerlufsen said. “We expected to win at Saint Mary’s, and it didn’t go our way. Credit to these guys for coming out and embracing the game plan.”

Gonzaga won its earlier meeting this season against San Francisco, 77-72 in Spokane, Wash., on Jan. 25 behind 22 points and seven rebounds from Ike.

–Field Level Media

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