There will be one major difference when No. 1 Gonzaga makes its yearly trip to St. Mary's Saturday night for a West Coast Conference matchup.
There won't be any fans at normally wild UCU Pavilion in Moraga, Calif., where the crowd is normally worth a few extra points for the Gaels. But Corey Kispert, the Bulldogs' leading scorer, isn't about to enjoy a false sense of security just because the boobirds won't be on hand.
"It will be business as usual for us," Kispert said. "It's the same old St. Mary's."
Whether that's true or not is up for debate, as the Gaels (9-4, 0-2) have opened conference play with home losses to Santa Clara and BYU. Thursday night's 62-52 setback to the Cougars saw St. Mary's come up dry offensively down the stretch, as it failed to score for a 9:51 span while BYU managed 16 straight points to erase a 50-43 advantage.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga (13-0, 4-0) struggled for a half before running upset-minded Pepperdine off the floor in a 95-70 decision Thursday night. The Zags led just 43-39 at the half but wore down the Waves, outscoring them by 21 in the second half.
The game did give head coach Mark Few some items to bring to his team's attention, such as an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers and occasional defensive lapses in the first half.
"We missed a lot of little shots around the rim early," he said. "We were trying to make something out of nothing. We are not used to turning the ball over 18 times."
But Gonzaga still canned 61 percent from the field in the second half and finished just a point shy of its NCAA-best 96 point per game average. Kispert led the charge with 23 points, canning six 3-pointers. Drew Timme chipped in 20, while Joel Ayayi hit for 19 points and Jalen Suggs had 18.
The same quartet can be found atop the Zags' scoring list. Kispert tallies 21.2 points per game, sinking 60.2 percent from the field and 48.8 percent from the 3-point line. Timme adds 18.6 points per contest, while Suggs scores 14.2 and Ayayi contributes 12.4.
No team shoots better than Gonzaga's 55.4 percent from the field, and only Iowa outdoes its 21 assists per game. Its assist-turnover ratio of 1.8 ranks third in Division I.
For the Gaels to have any chance at springing an upset that would likely end the Zags' run atop the polls, three things must happen: They must slow the pace and keep the score in the 60s or low 70s, point guard Tommy Kuhse has to enjoy a big game and they can't afford a dry spell like the one that cost them against BYU.
Kuhse paces St. Mary's with 14.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, averaging nearly three assists for every turnover while toiling nearly 36 minutes a night. Logan Johnson chips in 10.7 ppg but was limited to seven shots and eight points by BYU.
Gonzaga leads the all-time series 36-10, winning all three matchups last year by at least 10 points.
--Field Level Media