Early season test for Zags, Aztecs

November 14, 2016

The college basketball season is all of one game old for Gonzaga and San Diego State. Must be time for a showdown.

The list of the West’s best teams through the years undoubtedly includes Gonzaga, Arizona, UCLA and San Diego State.

The Zags completed a two-game series with UCLA last season (not counting a 2015 NCAA Tournament win over the Bruins). Gonzaga and Arizona extended their entertaining series and they’ll collide Dec. 3 in Los Angeles.

San Diego State, which replaced Cal on Gonzaga’s schedule, brings a quality resume into Monday’s late-night matchup at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Since 2011, Gonzaga is second nationally with an 82.2 winning percentage while San Diego State is seventh at 78.7. Wichita State leads the way at 82.4.

“It’ll be a huge challenge,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “It’s awfully early for stuff like this but that’s the way it goes.”

The Aztecs have won five of the last six Mountain West Conference titles. Their streak of six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances ended last season despite a 28-win campaign.

Defense is the foundation of the program under coach Steve Fisher. The Aztecs were No. 1 nationally in field-goal percentage defense and third in scoring defense last year. They ranked second in scoring defense in 2014 and 2015.

“Not a lot of teams ice the ball screen, keep the ball on one side of the floor and try not to let you move the ball side to side, so that’s more of an NBA style defense,” said GU point guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who faced San Diego State twice when he was at Washington.

“They have a lot of size, athleticism and interchangeable parts that make them kind of a unique defense.”

Williams-Goss had 15 points in a 49-36 win over the Aztecs in 2014. He scored 14 points in a 70-63 road loss in 2013.

Gonzaga sophomore guard Josh Perkins returns from a two-game suspension after being charged last month with physical control of a vehicle while under the influence. Perkins started all 36 games at point guard last season.

Silas Melson has been solid in starts against Utah Valley and West Georgia in the exhibition game. No word on who will start Monday but Melson and Perkins should to see plenty of time.

Perkins’ ball-handling and decision-making should help GU operate against an Aztec defense that often picks up in the backcourt. Melson is an accomplished defender who will likely guard Trey Kell (23 points in San Diego’s State opener) or Jeremy Hemsley (25).

Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams and San Diego State guard Montaque Gill-Caesar were teammates at Missouri two years ago. Gill-Caesar started and played 32 minutes in a 69-59 win over San Diego on Friday.

Max Hoetzel, Malik Pope, Matt Shrigley and Ben Perez didn’t play in SDSU’s opener. Hoetzel (knee) hasn’t practiced in a month. Pope (knee), Shrigley (ankle) and Perez (back) are listed as questionable.