Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. San Diego St. Aztecs Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 29th 2023

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Two of the top programs in the West will get together for a rare showdown when No. 13 Gonzaga battles San Diego State on Friday night at Spokane, Wash.

It will be just the fifth overall meeting between the programs, who have combined to play in three of the past six NCAA Tournament championship games. Gonzaga lost in the 2017 and 2021 title games, and San Diego State made a miracle run last season before losing to UConn in the final.

In addition, both teams were forecast to be No. 1 seeds in the 2020 NCAA Tournament late-February reveal before March Madness later was canceled due to COVID-19.

The programs have split their four previous meetings. San Diego State posted a 72-70 home victory on Dec. 21, 2017, in the most recent encounter.

The Aztecs (10-2) have won three straight games and are coming off a 74-60 home victory over Stanford on Dec. 21. San Diego State’s losses this season are to BYU and Grand Canyon.

Gonzaga (9-3) has won just two of its past four games and routed visiting Jackson State 100-76 on Dec. 20 in its last outing. The Bulldogs have lost to then-No. 2 Purdue, Washington and No. 5 UConn.

The victory over Jackson State came five days after the 76-63 loss to UConn in Seattle.

“We put a lot into that UConn game,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “I was really happy with our guys’ effort.”

Few stands two victories away from recording his 700th career win.

San Diego State has been knocked out of the Top 25 twice this season, the most recent time coming when it was upset by host Grand Canyon 79-73 on Dec. 5.

The Aztecs have won 20 or more games in 17 of their past 18 seasons, including all six since Brian Dutcher became head coach.

The high bar that has been set leaves Dutcher with mixed feelings about the team’s record.

“We’re 10-2, obviously, you want to be 12-0, but 10-2 with the schedule we played is pretty good,” Dutcher said. “We’re healthy, we’re getting better, and we have to continue that growth into the New Year.”

Still, Gonzaga will be the first ranked foe of the season for the Aztecs, something extra important for San Diego State’s resume.

Aztecs star Jaedon LeDee said his club needs to view the contest as just another game.

“At the end of the day, it is just basketball,” LeDee said. “We are going to go out there and play our brand of basketball. We’re going to come compete. That’s what we do.”

LeDee leads San Diego State in scoring (21.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.4).

Reese Waters (13.7) and Micah Parrish (10.8) also are scoring in double digits. Lamont Butler, who hit the buzzer-beating shot to take down Florida Atlanta last season and put the Aztecs in the NCAA final, is averaging 8.3 points and a team-leading 3.7 assists.

Anton Watson has been standing out for Gonzaga with averages of 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds and a team-best 17 steals. Watson moved into second place in school history with 179 steals but still needs a telescope to spot legendary John Stockton (262) atop the list.

“I just pride myself a lot on defense, so I’m proud of that,” Watson said. “That’s not a record I was trying to chase. It was just something that happens with how I play.”

Graham Ike (14.1) is tied with Watson for the club scoring lead and is slightly ahead in rebounding at 7.9 per game.

Nolan Hickman (12.7), Ryan Nembhard (12.0 ppg, team-best 5.4 assists) and Braden Huff (11.3) also score in double figures for the Bulldogs.

–Field Level Media

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