Gonzaga's dominant offense has been slipping, but it hasn't yet caught up with them against inferior opponents. The Bulldogs might not be as fortunate with a similar performance against Kansas State and its stingy defense.
No. 21 Gonzaga will try to rediscover its shooting touch and knock off the Wildcats for the second year in a row when the schools meet in Wichita on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (10-1) have won six straight games since losing to Dayton on Nov. 25 in Maui, but their offense has been less than stellar over the last two. They rank among the nation's leaders, averaging 87.5 points on 52.6 percent shooting - including 44.4 percent from long distance - but shot 42.4 percent in wins over West Virginia and South Alabama. Gonzaga hit a combined 9 of 34 3-point attempts over those two contests after hitting at least 11 3s in six of its first nine.
Saturday's 68-59 win over South Alabama in Seattle was their lowest scoring output yet. Gonzaga couldn't pull away by a wide margin despite a 22-3 lead to start the game.
"We didn't play good and South Alabama deserves a lot of credit for that," coach Mark Few said. "They started going at us and exploiting a lot of areas we were struggling in and they took full advantage of it but we hung in there and kept them at arm's length and made just enough plays."
Leading scorer Kevin Pangos (18.7 ppg) is hitting 47.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc but was 1 of 6 versus South Alabama, and 3 of 12 from the floor overall. Third-leading scorer Gary Bell Jr. was also 1 of 6 from distance as Gonzaga finished 2 for 14.
"We had wide open 3 looks that we've been making all year and we just didn't make them," Few said.
Kansas State (7-3) certainly appears capable of bottling up the Bulldogs from deep, as they're limiting opponents to 59.4 points per game and 24.9 percent 3-point shooting.
However, Gonzaga took a 68-52 win in Seattle last year despite going 3 of 12 from long range. Pangos was held in check, scoring nine on 3-of-6 shooting, but the Wildcats shot 33.3 percent from the field while committing 18 turnovers.
Points have been even tougher to come by than usual against Kansas State during its five-game winning streak, with opponents averaging 51.0 points on 36.0 percent shooting.
The Wildcats held Troy to a 17-of-47 shooting performance, including 3 for 19 from beyond the arc in a 72-43 home win on Sunday.
Offensively, Kansas State recorded assists on 24 of its 28 baskets. Guards Marcus Foster and Will Spradling each scored a game-high 14. Foster's 14.4 points per game is the highest average by a Kansas State freshman since Michael Beasley in 2007-08.
After being outrebounded three times in their first five games, the Wildcats are averaging a plus-12.8 rebounding margin during their winning streak. They hauled in 17 offensive rebounds against the Trojans and are averaging 18.5 over the last four contests.
"We have been much better since the beginning, just in rebounding overall," coach Bruce Weber said. "We put a lot of time into it with boxing out. I think they have watched film and realized how much it has affected the game."
Another Gonzaga victory would even the series at two wins apiece.
The Associated Press News Service
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