Big showdown as No. 5 Gonzaga hosts No. 21 Saint Mary's
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Fifth-ranked Gonzaga typically doesn't get tested much after West Coast Conference play begins. But the undefeated Bulldogs face one of their biggest remaining challenges when No. 21 Saint Mary's visits on Saturday.
The Zags (16-0, 4-0 West Coast) are the last remaining undefeated team in the nation, and they have romped through their first four conference games, winning by an average of more than 25 points.
Saint Mary's figures to be a bit tougher. The Gaels actually dealt Gonzaga a rare home loss last season.
''That sticks with you,'' guard Silas Melson said. ''It hurts when somebody comes into your house and takes your win away from you.''
But Melson admitted it is good to have a tough archrival in a league where Gonzaga often blows out opponents. The Bulldogs beat Loyola Marymount 93-55 on Thursday night for their 16th consecutive win, the longest streak in the nation.
''It makes it a lot more fun when you have a league game that's hyped up this much,'' Melson said.
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski missed last season's games against Saint Mary's with injury, but the senior knows all about the rivalry.
''It's Saint Mary's,'' Karnowski said. ''They're either in front of us or behind us - mostly behind - but the rivalry is there.''
Added guard Josh Perkins: ''This is definitely a game we circle on our calendars.''
Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett is fielding perhaps his best team at the school. The Gaels (15-1, 5-0 WCC) beat Portland 74-33 on Thursday night.
Gonzaga will visit Saint Mary's on Feb. 11. There's a pretty good chance the teams will meet a third time in the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
While Saint Mary's is a veteran team that returned nearly its entire roster from last season, Gonzaga started the season with a lot of newcomers.
Three starters - Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams - are transfers who are in their first season playing for the Zags. Freshmen Zach Collins and Killian Tillie are key contributors off the bench.
All five of those players have yet to lose in a Gonzaga uniform.
Williams-Goss, who played his first two seasons at Washington, this week was named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list. The award is presented to the nation's most outstanding basketball player.
Williams-Goss leads Gonzaga in scoring (15 points per game), rebounds (6.1 per game), assists (4.8 per game) and steals (1.7 per game).
He said there is no doubt he made the right decision to transfer across the state.
''Since day one, I feel like it is a perfect fit,'' he said.
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