Backloaded WCC schedule awaits Gonzaga men’s basketball

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Gonzaga on Tuesday learned its WCC schedule and most of its toughest contests should fall in the final three weeks.

The Zags, who have won or shared the conference title 18 of the last 19 seasons, will probably be favored again but Saint Mary’s is a formidable challenger and BYU is stronger with Yoeli Childs’ unexpected decision to return for his senior season.

Gonzaga, ranked No. 7 in ESPN’s most recent way-too-early Top 25, visits Saint Mary’s on Feb. 8 and entertains the Gaels in the regular-season finale on Feb. 29. The Gaels, ranked No. 20 by ESPN, return nearly every top player from last year’s squad that shared second with BYU, five games behind Gonzaga.

Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s closed the 2019 regular season with the Zags winning 69-55 in Moraga to finish 16-0 in conference. The Gaels stunned GU 60-47 to win the WCC Tournament 10 days later.

In addition to Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga’s road dates against BYU and Pepperdine come in closing weeks. The Zags face the Cougars on Feb. 22, one week after traveling to Malibu to take on the Waves. Pepperdine appears poised to crack the top half of the conference.

Other key games for the Zags: BYU’s visit Jan. 18 and dates with San Francisco on the road (Feb. 1) and home (Feb. 20). The Dons finished fourth last season under Kyle Smith, who left for Washington State’s coaching job and was replaced by Todd Golden.

The Zags’ toughest stretch on paper will be its last six games: at Saint Mary’s, at Pepperdine, vs. USF, at BYU, vs. San Diego and vs. Saint Mary’s. The Toreros lost four senior starters but the other four teams could be projected in the top five of the WCC preseason poll.

Gonzaga has three split weeks (one home game, one away), two home weeks, two road weeks and two one-game weeks in the nine-week, 16-game schedule.

The Zags open with a split week, facing Portland in the Chiles Center on Jan. 2 before returning home to meet Pepperdine at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Jan. 4. The single-game weeks are versus Pacific on Jan. 25 and against Pepperdine at Firestone Fieldhouse on Feb. 15.

The WCC Tournament is March 5-10 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The top two seeds earn a bye into the semifinals, which are scheduled for March 9.

The television schedule for WCC matchups will be released at a later date.

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